For two years, actor and comedian Ravi Patel (Scrubs, Transformers, and now, Grandfathered with John Stamos) had a Secret White Girlfriend named Audrey. The concept of SWG (or SWB) may be familiar to people who’ve been in “mixed” or multicultural relationships: one person of the pair is too scared or not committed enough to dare reveal to one or both parents that there’s someone in their life who comes from a different cultural background. (Been there, done that.)
Following the break-up and nearing age 30, Ravi let go of his previous resistance to family involvement in a possible arranged marriage for himself, and decided to give it a try. He reasoned that there might be something to it, considering how happy his mother and father are, and their union was the result of an arranged marriage.
This decision on Ravi’s part happens right around the time he’s headed to India for the annual family trip, much of which is captured on film by his sister, Geeta, who – like Ravi – left a career in finance to move over into the arts. Right away, we’re plunged into effortlessly charming home movies, as the Patel quartet makes their rounds from holy sites, to more touristy locations, and back to the family’s hometown in Gujurat. From those home movies, brother and sister embarked on a six-year-year process as co-writers and directors to make Meet the Patels.
You can’t help not be taken by the parents. The irrepressible father Vasant always has something to say and is quick to smile, and his wife Champa is the emotional heart of the family and the film. They’re those friends’ parents whom you adore, even though sometimes your friends will be mortified by the things they say or do.
The love the four people in this family have for each other fills the room while you’re sitting there watching the screen.
Some of my favorite interactions (and laughs) came from the exchanges between Ravi and his Dad. In one scene, as both men bathe in the Ganges, he kids his father for now favoring boxer briefs. In another, while both are standing in the parents’ garden in North Carolina, Ravi observes some clothes draped over garden furniture (I think it was a swing) to dry, and jibes “Dad, you think you could spring for a clothesline maybe?” Vasant Patel, without missing a beat, comes back with a classic Dad line that many of us have heard a variation of from at least one parent in our lifetimes: “I didn’t get a million-dollar house by wasting money!”
While the basic premise of the film is Ravi’s search for a mate (including a transcontinental dating schedule and a Patel marriage convention), the film is really about the bonds of family (usually loving, but also sometimes enough to make you crazy) and this globalized world we live in, where people often end up thousands of miles from where they were born and navigating cultures that are not originally their own. You feel for Mom Champa Patel, when things are not going quite to plan in Ravi’s search, as she says to the camera (and daughter Geeta, the cameraperson) “ I’m not giving up my culture that easily.”
This is the most funny and heartfelt movie I’ve seen this year. At the screening I attending a fortnight back, everyone in the room (a bunch of New York media people, no less) broke into spontaneous applause at the end. I definitely want to watch it again and I’d be hard-pressed to think of anyone who would not enjoy this film as much as I did. Go see it!
Meet the Patels opens today in New York, Chicago and Los Angeles. The family will be sprinkled around each of the three cities for appearances. You can find out who’s where by checking here.
Next Friday, it expands to many more locations, including quite a few theaters around New Jersey, as you might expect.