With the help of his sister (Geeta V. Patel – amateur cameraperson, roommate, and occasional voice of reason), actor Ravi Patel chronicles his journey to find a suitable wife in this documentary. It was picked up by a distributor after being entered in a few film festivals; it won the Audience Award in L.A. On a production level, it’s not great, though the shaky handcam is balanced out by crisp animation and slick packaging (clearly added by a later producer). The film’s insightful, though in a limited way: Ravi shows some of what an American-born Indian might go through to find a spouse, but during the process, he never really commits to finding someone new, since he’s already got someone in mind. Because it’s clear from the beginning that he would rather be with his ex, Audrey, there’s no dramatic tension, and no real possibility he’ll fall in love with anyone else.
The problem arises not from the difficulties of finding a suitable wife, but because Ravi doesn’t want to tell his Indian-born parents that Audrey is white. Instead, they break up, and she moves progressively farther and farther away from him while he’s simultaneously searching the Internet for a “proper” Indian wife who’ll appeal to his American taste. If you aren’t familiar with the ways a Patel in the US can find a wife – arranged marriages, matchmakers, dating websites, family conventions, and biodata sheets passed around by the mothers of potential dates – that part of the film is interesting. I wish there was more of a focus on that part of Ravi’s search, but each snippet is brought back, time and again, to Ravi’s internal conflicts (Audrey vs. what he thinks his parents want, what he thinks he should want) and Ravi’s clear need to be honest with everyone involved.
In the end, Meet the Patels is less about Ravi’s family, and more a letter to his first love: “Here’s the process of me figuring out I was an idiot,” the movie seems to say. Once he’s decided to introduce them, his parents very quickly agree that having a white American girl for a wife is much better than no wife at all. None of his feared “drama” arises at her identity, and only a little at his deception (quickly forgiven), proving Ravi should have just told them in the first place.
That’s true of most conflicts, though, isn’t it?
Overall, it’s cute, somewhat informative, and buoyed by Ravi’s charming family. Worth watching, but you can safely do other things while it’s on.
Watch it on Netflix.