The Wedding Plan
Israeli romantic comedy eschews romance and comedy, but still finds sympathy for its undaunted heroine
The Wedding Plan (2017)
Directed by Rama Burshtein
Cast: Noa Koler, Dafi Alferon, Oded Leopold
Muddling through her mid-30s, Orthodox Jewish singleton Michal (Noa Koler) is convinced the reason she is unhappy is because she’s not married. She lives in Jerusalem and comes from a tradition-bound society, after all, that puts a pretty heavy onus on marriage. Reach middle age without hooking up and you’re not just a spinster—you’re flat-out defying God’s plan for marriage and procreation. At this point in life, Michal is ready to settle for just about anyone—anyone with curly forelocks and a big black hat, anyway. She finds what she’s looking for—or so she thinks—in the form of Gidi, a sad-eyed, tightlipped Hasid. Unfortunately, after much prodding, Gidi admits he’s not really in love with her and doesn’t want to get married (while they’re taste-testing main courses for their wedding reception, no less). Michal isn’t the type to take disappointment lying down, however. At the end of her romantic rope, she decides that she’s not canceling the wedding. She’s reserving the wedding hall, keeping the date open and in exactly 22 days, she’s going to be married, come Hell or high water. That’s the setup for the culturally specific romantic dramedy The Wedding Plan.
The way our gal Michal sees it, she’s leaving her romantic fate in God’s hands. Either she’ll meet someone in the next month or she won’t. But she’s OK with hedging her bets a little. She relies heavily on her friends, recruits the services of multiple matchmakers and even makes a religious pilgrimage to pray over the shrine of a famous rabbi in the Ukraine. She goes on a lot of first dates, but keeps running into men who are either too fundamentalist (one refuses to even look her in the face because she’s female) or too brutally honest (sensing the faint odor of desperation about her, most men tap out early). As the story wears on, the ticking clock that is Michal’s predetermined wedding day becomes less of a referendum for her faith in God and more a litmus test for her faith in herself. Will any of her shattershot attempts at romance pan out in the end?
The Wedding Plan comes to us via Israel from New York-born writer-director Rama Burshtein (2012’s Fill the Void, which also looked at traditional Hasidic marriage—albeit from a more dramatic viewpoint). The Wedding Plan bills itself as a comedy. Although, like a lot of recent indie “dramedies,” the humor comes not from actual jokes but from the far-fetched situation. (See for reference: last week’s The Lovers.) Certainly, the idea of a middle-aged woman confidently setting a wedding date and then going out hunting for a groom could serve as the basis for some increasingly manic Tina Fey comedy. But that is not this film.
Much of the film’s funny-sad spunk comes from first-time actress Noa Koler, who deftly defines the character’s fear of loneliness and aging, her spiritual doubt and personal indecision. Michal is a pretty if somewhat plain-Jane type who owns her own “mobile petting zoo.” (A Zooey Deschanel-worthy career choice.) She’s a quirky, likable sad sack of a heroine you can’t help but root for. On the one hand, she’s a devout, God-fearing woman. On the other, she’s trying to blaze her own, nonconformist path to marriage. Neither her friends nor her mother nor her rabbi really get what she’s trying to do. But she does. And that’s enough for her. Initially, anyway.
There are moments when our protagonist seems on the tipping point of success. In the Ukraine, for example, she crosses paths with a hipster Jewish pop star (Oz Zehavi) who’s traded his yeshivish hat for a knit cap. Despite her string of dating disasters, other last-minute romantic saves abound. But with the set-in-stone wedding date approaching, we can’t help but feel nervous for Michal. Is her do-or-die deadline cutting off prospects for a deeper connection with the men she’s meeting? Burshtein also plays around with our perceptions a bit, allowing Michal to go off on daydreams or flights of fancy. If this film offers us a happy ending, can we really trust it?
The Wedding Plan never fully convinces as a romantic comedy, and its dogmatic elements can be daunting (if not a bit frustrating) for the non-Orthodox in the audience. I, for one, find it difficult to generate strong romantic feelings about a culture that’s cool with arranged marriage. Your results may vary. But no matter how you approach it, The Wedding Plan has a certain charm and velocity that’s hard to escape. Add to that a likable lead actress and the sensitivity with which her troubles are portrayed, and you’ve got a film that dances to the beat of its own exotic wedding band.