Talk to anyone, and you’ll find that marriage has about a 50% success rate. Whether the two have known each other for a lifetime or have just met, whether they’ve dated for years or weeks, whether they choose or it was arranged, marriage success is roughly the same. Everyone has a fifty-fifty chance.

If this is true, why then put so much emphasis on it? Why fret and sweat, hoping to find a perfect and compatible mate when the outcome is essentially a coin-flip? Emotions? Most likely. Fear? Definitely. But I suspect that tradition is most likely the strongest reason. No child wants to disappoint their parents, and when it comes down to marriage, there can be an awful lot of disappointment.

That is essential where the documentary, Meet the Patels comes from.

Ravi Patel is American by birth, Indian by descent, and an actor by trade. He lives in Los Angeles, and for the past two years, Ravi has been dating Audrey, a redhead from Connecticut. But the kicker is, Ravi’s parents have never met Audrey, nor do they know of her existence. Ravi’s parents are Indian and the product of a very happy and very successfully arranged marriage. They are still holding out hope that Ravi, and his older sister, Greeta, will eventually come around to the ways of tradition and follow suit.

Although Ravi resists it, his biological clock is ticking, and the desire to please his parents causes Ravi to break it off with Audrey and find a nice young Indian girl to settle down with. His parents couldn’t be happier and immediately spring into action. Thankfully, Greeta grabs a camera to document the process à la Real World, and what she uncovers is universal and personal.

Meet the Patels is less about Ravi’s search to find his mate and more about his search to understand his parents and heritage. Making this all the more interesting is that Greeta is exploring as well. In essence, Greeta’s approach to Ravi’s story is not simply one of cinéma vérité, but cinema by way of the diary. Ravi’s confessions and discoveries unfold before the lens while Greeta’s reactions either equal movement (from this subject to that) or linger (silently probing deeper without doing anything).

Meet the Patels is amateurishly made—the camera shakes often, is occasionally out of focus, and a microphone can often be seen in the upper right-hand corner of the frame—but Meet the Patels is the exception, not the rule. Here is an instance where amateurish qualities add aesthetic rather than detract. We are watching Greeta write a story of her brother and parents in real-time, with each revelation and discovery coming 24 frames a second.

And it’s funny. Hard to beat that.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Meet the Patels (2014)
Directed by: Ravi Patel, Greeta Patel
Written by: Matthew Hamachek, Billy McMillin, Ravi Patel, Greeta Patel
Produced by: Janet Fries Eckholm, Geeta Patel
Starring: Ravi Patel, Champa V. Patel, Vasant K. Patel, Greeta Patel
Alchemy, Rated PG, Running time 88 minutes, Opens October 2, 2015