DVD Review - Meet the Patels

The producers of the ABC series The Bachelor have been criticized for not having men of color. The likelihood that the dating show would ever have a bachelor of Indian-descent is low. The likelihood that the reality-TV hit would ever have Ravi Patel, a short, slightly chubby and somewhat awkward, comedic actor is even lower. The producers would rather go with someone like the three sexiest and most successful, Bollywood actors alive, Salman Khan, Akshay Kumar and John Abraham. Yet, if it wanted to go with a young Gujarati, this documentary by Patel's sister provides a good template.

On the surface, the film is about the dating lives of first-generation, Indian-Americans, as they're pulled between Indian traditions like arranged marriages and American customs, which are less structured and strict. Patel who is 29 feels pulled between the two. He was born and raised in the United States but his immigrant parents are very influential. They in fact insist that he conform to India's way of male-female coupling.

Unfortunately, if this film is about the dating lives of first-generation, Indian-Americans with Patel being the prime subject, it fails to commit to this idea to the extent it could become anything meaningful or truly insightful. Patel goes on a series of dates with girls, but his dates and the aftermath of which are always treated superficially or in montage-form, which is done to diminishing returns. This is possibly purposeful but it makes the film's ultimate aim predictable and the journey frustrating or tiring.

Just under the surface, the film is about an interracial relationship, or the parallels like inter-cultural or inter-religious relationships. Given the situations or circumstances of Patel's life, the movie can't be about that relationship directly. Because the movie is limited mainly to Patel's point-of-view, there's also a myopia or narrow-sightedness here that doesn't help.

We hear from Patel's family commenting on his dates with various girls, and we hear from Patel himself, but we don't hear from the girls. Patel dismisses one girl after another and we never learn why. We never get the girl's point-of-view. The dates then become so inconsequential that it's almost like Patel isn't even dating at all. Again, this is possibly intentional because Patel's trajectory is seemingly obvious. He's fated almost from the start to end up with one person, that person being Audrey. His dates therefore are meaningless exercises.

It's fine, if they are, but the movie is built on top of them and when their hollowness is exposed, the whole movie then collapses. What's left standing is a quasi-character study of Patel whose neuroses about feeling like he's living a double-life or is being pulled between two worlds or cultures become interesting but certainly aren't limited to him or his sister. The neuroses are an equal measure of appreciation and rebellion from his parents and their native culture.

Patel acknowledges his sister's inability or inexperience with a camera. The whole piece aesthetically comes across as a slightly more cohesive and extended, home movie. Expectations are lowered, as perhaps to avoid comparisons to someone like Mira Nair, the acclaimed filmmaker, but with synonymous themes one might be better enjoying the wondrous beauty of The Namesake (2007).

Three Stars out of Five.
Rated PG for thematic elements, brief suggestive images and incidental smoking.
Running Time: 1 hr. and 27 mins.

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