Guest Post from Tara Sonenshine on “Meet the Patels,” Marriage, Yom Kippur, and the Pope

Posted on September 21, 2015 at 4:22 pm

Many thanks to Tara Sonenshine for this thoughtful commentary:

It’s Yom Kippur, The Pope is Arriving, and “Meet the Patels” is in Theaters….Let’s Celebrate “Tradition”

I am very glad to have met the Patels last night via the new film, “Meet the Patels” starring Indian-American actor, Ravi Patel, in a comedic documentary about a young man’s journey to find a wife, on his own, while his parents insist on providing him with an arranged marriage. With Ravi’s sister, Greeta Patel, filming the entire quest, the movie both entertains and inspires. For me, as a Jewish movie goer, the film reminded me of the similarities in cultures and religious traditions mixed with the generational divides that challenge all faiths.

Indian arranged marriages are not too dissimilar from old-fashioned Jewish “Shidachs” where a matchmaker pairs up the groom and bride based on criteria ranging from family background to physical characteristics as well as important considerations like money. The key is parental involvement—something eschewed by modern millennials. Like Jewish parents, the Patels are desperate for their grown children to marry and procreate, and they want Indian tradition to prevail. All that was missing in the movie was a “fiddler on the roof.”

The irony about tradition is that despite the predominance of modern technology, an Internet-driven society, and the notion that people can have “friends” without ever meeting them, there is still something special about being in the same room with those we want to know. Crowds will flock to see the Pope in Washington, Philadelphia, and New York City, even though they can get a better seat at home watching CNN. Our kids use speed dating—simply a scaled up version of what The Patels were offering with “biodata” and martial conventions where single people scope out the potential mates. In the end, there is nothing truly new about services like “Jewish Singles.com” or “Christian Mingle.com” or what The Patels had in mind.

So as Jews around the world celebrate “Yom Kippur,”—the Day of Atonement, and Catholics wave to the “Pope,” let’s toast traditions—may they last forever.

Tara Sonenshine is former under secretary of state for public diplomacy and public affairs.

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Understanding Media and Pop Culture

The One I Love

Posted on September 4, 2014 at 6:00 pm

B+
Lowest Recommended Age: Mature High Schooler
MPAA Rating: Rated R for language, some sexuality and drug use
Profanity: Very strong language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Drinking, drugs
Violence/ Scariness: Scuffle, some creepy themes
Diversity Issues: None
Date Released to Theaters: September 5, 2014
Amazon.com ASIN: B00MB7KXPM

“The One I Love” is pretty good as a movie and sublime as an exercise, especially an acting exercise. Just describing details about the story will require a huge spoiler alert, which I will insert below before giving away some of what happens in the film (omitting the ending, of course). But first, we can mention the acting challenge presented by the film. Two actors are on screen for almost the entire running time and are required to display small but distinctly different characteristics to help us and the characters keep everything straight. That is a pleasure to watch on a whole other level aside from the storyline. The-One-I-LoveElisabeth Moss (“Mad Men”) and Mark Duplass (“The Mindy Project”) play Ethan and Sophie, a married couple seeing a therapist (Ted Danson) for counseling. Ethan remembers with great warmth when they first met, and impulsively went for a swim in a stranger’s pool. The sense of fun and freedom they had is something he misses. Sophie is having trouble trusting Ethan again because he had an affair and he is embarrassed and defensive. “I felt like our happiness used to be so easy and there used to be so much of it,” she says sadly. The therapist recommends a weekend getaway to a beautiful, remote cabin, assuring them that every couple he has sent there has returned “renewed.”

They arrive at the cottage, which is lovely, and discover that it has a guest house. SPOILER ALERT: As each of them enters the guest house separately, they encounter what they at first think is each other, but then realize is some other version of the person they married, a little brighter, sweeter, more considerate, more agreeable. Sophie’s new Ethan apologizes sincerely and contritely for his transgression and paints a portrait of her to show his devotion. Ethan’s smiling, slightly Stepford wife-ish new Sophie makes him bacon for breakfast, which the old Sophie didn’t like. At first, each thinks that the other is somehow making progress, becoming more cooperative, more committed to intimacy and rebuilding the relationship. But then it becomes clear that only one of them can enter the guest house at a time, and that the spouse they experience inside is someone new, different, and possibly some sort of projection, not a real person at all.

Ethan and Sophie respond very differently. He takes it on as an opportunity for rational detective work. “Of course you thought the fun was the investigation,” Sophie says, reminding him of the magic show where she enjoyed the show but he insisted on deconstructing all the tricks.

The original Sophie and Ethan at first decide to leave. It is just too creepy. But then they decide to return, making a pact about how each of them will handle the guest house doppelgangers. Is that the therapy? Giving them a shared experience so bizarre that it jolts them into working together to puzzle it out may be part of rebuilding their relationship, after all. “It’s like an exercise in trust,” Ethan says.

Screenwriter Justin Lader plays out the possibilities very cleverly, and it would be unfair to spoil it further. If the ending is not all one might hope, more of a trick than a conclusion, the performances and the ideas are provocative, fun, and something of a therapeutic trust exercise of their own.

Parents should know that this film includes very strong language, sexual references and situations, drinking, and drug use.

Family discussion: What is your explanation for how this retreat came together? If you had a chance to enter the guest house, would you? What would you find there?

If you like this, try: “Safety Not Guaranteed”

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Beliefnet’s List of Great Movie Marriages

Posted on April 7, 2010 at 8:00 am

Be sure to check out Ten Movies that Celebrate Marriage by Kris Rasmussen. There are a zillion movies that celebrate falling in love but relatively few take on the more challenging task of showing what happens next — what living happily ever after really means. I was glad to see Julie & Julia on the list. The portrayal of the real-life marriage of Paul and Julia Child as passionate, supportive, understanding, and deeply loving was one of the great cinematic treats of 2009. And the wordless depiction of a decades long marriage that began Pixar’s Up conveyed more in a few brief moments than most movies do in two hours. I liked her mentioning both versions of “Shall We Dance” and “Father of the Bride.” And of course there is special sweetness in the Spencer Tracy speech she quotes from “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner” because it was clear that he was really speaking about his love for his co-star, Katherine Hepburn.

My own list of great movie depictions of marriage would include Audrey Hepburn and Albert Finney in Two for the Road. But because we follow them over time, I think television does a better job in showing us great marriages — think of Ricky and Lucy, Rob and Laura, Cliff and Claire, as well as the couples in “Mad About You,” “Growing Pains,” “Home Improvement,” and many, many more.

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After the kids go to bed For Your Netflix Queue

Fireproof

Posted on September 24, 2008 at 4:57 pm

The faith-based film Fireproof, starring Kirk Cameron, is enjoying impressive advance ticket sales this week according to Harry Medved of Fandango. It is the story of a firefighter who finds that his most difficult challenge is finding a way to give his wife the love and intimacy necessary to keep their relationship strong. It is not until he turns to God for help that he begins to find a way to let her know how much she means to him.

It opens in more than 800 theaters this Friday, small in Hollywood terms but an extraordinary achievement for a film that cost only $500,000 and was made mostly by amateurs from a film-making ministry in Albany, Georgia. “No one is expecting it will rule the box office,” Medved told me, “but it has made an impressive beginning.”

Church-based “action squads” have been buying tickets in bulk, a powerful reminder to Hollywood that an under served audience will respond positively to a film like this, even without a lot of ad support. “It’s a great couples’ movie,” said Medved. “When’s the last time a movie improved your marriage? We get a lot of movies about falling in love or about temptations away from marriage but this is a film about making a marriage work.” Couples can learn from this film about how to give fully of themselves for a strong and lasting relationship, no matter what their religious beliefs.

“For moviegoers who plan to see a smaller release on opening weekend, online ticketing is the way to go,” says Fandango Chief Operating Officer Rick Butler, who adds that advance ticket sales for “Fireproof” continue to be “healthy.”

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