My Big Fat Patel Wedding (Documentary Review: “Meet the Patels”)

Meet the Patels is the hilarious real-life misadventure of an Indian son in today’s America who places his romantic future in the hands of his old-world parents.

SnapShot Plot

In this comic documentary that actually began as a home movie, struggling L.A. actor, Ravi Patel and his sister Geeta (in a mostly off-screen, camera-man role) decide to capture the ups and downs of Ravi’s love life, vis a vis the almost military matchmaking operation of their parents.

Ravi’s about to turn 30, a pivotal birthday which demands a rest-of-your-life decision and commitment in the Marriage department. He’s in a tough spot, though, as Ravi clearly views himself a modern American man although he culturally identifies with much of the Indian heritage that is his birthright. And as if that weren’t enough, his uber-Indian parents are kind of a big deal in the region from which these Patels hail, and they’ve been making annual family pilgrimages to the homeland since the siblings can remember. So it’s not just the classic disconnect between the immigrant mentality and their 1st generation offspring; it’s an additional burden of what it means to be a Patel. This is what adds the curry and spice in this little gem: as much fun and laughs as it is, it’s also a genial glimpse into the actual Indian and Indian-American culture which it affectionately spoofs.

Ravi himself narrates the film, aided by clever cartoons depicting the entire family, as well as a great use of maps showing car rides, airline flights, and the particular towns within India that the parents deem more love-match-friendly than others. It also doesn’t hurt that Ravi’s parents – especially his Dad – are so larger than life (did I mention his father’s nose?) that their every word and gesture gets a laugh. I thought it was a comic conceit to put their dialogue in sub-titles . . . until I realized I absolutely needed them!



Parting Shot

Anyone remotely familiar with those chaste Bollywood romantic comedies will recognize the well-worn trope of the Arranged Marriage dynamic at work in Meet the Patels. But because it’s a documentary, and because it’s perspective is distilled through an American cultural sensibility as well as an Indian one, the story feels fresh and alive. As Ravi struggles to walk that tightrope between his parents’ world and his own, balancing a modern cynicism against the hopeful belief in a centuries old tradition of happy arranged marriages, we are swept along in his personal journey, at times touching but mostly hilarious.

As the Indian culture of entrenched  and elaborate traditions surrounding matchmaking strike us as ridiculous, on another level Meet the Patels shows us how very similar all these Bio-Data sheets, resumes, and parental call centers are to our own current matchmaking solutions via social media. Maybe they had it right all along? And finally, charmingly, and to quote Lin-Manuel Miranda (in his Tony acceptance speech for Hamilton) the real message here is quite simply, “Love is Love is Love is Love…”

Meet the Patels is presently streaming on Netflix.

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YouTube Trailer:

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