Meet the Patels is a good-natured documentary that plays like a romantic comedy. The director and star, Ravi Patel, is a young Indian-American actor looking to find a girlfriend. His parents urge him and his also-single sister (relegated to the sidelines of the screen) to try Indian matchmaking — as Patel aptly illustrates, this is not quite an arranged marriage, but rather a traditional process in which the parents do much of the legwork of dating for the child, to find a suitable partner. Patel keeps the film light, with frequent use of charmingly simple, self-referential animations -- the proceedings never feel like an ethnographic primer.
Implicit in Meet the Patels is a comparison of Indian dating with how Americans date now — the "Biodata" sheet that Patel's parents pass along to potential suitors isn't unlike the template offered by online profiles, and parents heavily insinuating themselves into their children's lives certainly isn't exclusive to Indian culture. In one amusing interlude, Patel attends a "Patel Convention." "Patel" refers to a specific region and familial line in India, and, as the director explains, being a Patel makes him "unconditionally a part of the biggest family in the world." For 88 minutes, Patel invites us to join in. Docs in which the documentarian is the main character run the risk of being self-indulgent, but Meet the Patels avoids this pitfall by maintaining a sense of humor and using informal interviews with young Indian men and women talking about how their culture has shaped them. The film ends on a fairly predictable note, but the journey there is an unconventional one.