Near the beginning of The Wedding Plan, the latest from Israeli-American filmmaker Rama Burshtein, we find ourselves in an uncomfortable place. Michal, whom we first met at a fortune teller’s talking about how she just wants to be loved, and her fiancé tuck into a tasting of the food available at the venue where they plan on getting married. Their relationship falls apart as they taste the food that they plan to serve at the reception. Michal experiences the very same fear of being unloved she had just articulated. It is very close to a worst case scenario for Michal. But, in an act of supreme faith and stubborn defiance in the face of her own despair, this dreadful experience is the genesis of her decision to insist that she will get married at this venue on the same date, the eighth day of Hanukah, about one month away . . . she just doesn’t know who the groom will be anymore. Like many acts of faith, it is greeted with disbelief by her friends and family.
Despite the plot trappings of some zany rom-com romp, The Wedding Plan is a sweet, determined, and genuinely affecting film about a woman’s crisis of faith in the midst of her search for love. Burshtein has cast a gem of an actress to pay Michal. Noa Koler is a revelation as this headstrong young woman who is starting to feel like 32 is getting to be too late to be unwed. Burshtein and cinematographer Amit Yasur often linger particularly over the more emotionally difficult conversations where Michal relentlessly probes past the surface level clichés of love and marriage that have proven so unsatisfying for her whole life and are particularly agitating when she is working on a hard deadline.
Koler’s greatest asset is her wonderfully expressive face and it is a potent ally for Burshtein’s patient camera. Over and over again, Michal is presented with a facile emotional remark which Burshtein then allows us to watch Michal mull over, to let the impact of it land before she refuses to accept the remark and then presses her quarry harder. By turns anxious and perceptive and stubborn, Koler’s face is eloquent in expressing the various stages of Michal’s emotional journey.
As an American man with an interest in feminism, the notion of a woman trying to define herself and her happiness by having a partner is obviously problematic. I was strongly rooting for Michal not to end up with anyone at all, to be honest. But despite the almost depressingly conventional setup, Burshtein has given us an unconventional woman searching for a husband in a very unconventional way. Michal’s a mobile petting zoo owner who travels around with bunnies and parrots and snakes to children’s parties, feeling awkward and weird and taking it on the chin from the prim mothers who will hire a woman to hold a snake but won’t let the little girls touch it. Burshtein and her team are kicking against societal pricks, even if they are not necessarily looking to burn the barn down.
Despite my secular Western film inclinations, Burshtein’s point of view is firmly based in a particular religious community and The Wedding Plan does indeed end with God providing Michal with a husband at the very last moment. I would not dare spoil who she marries, but the scene where Michal recognizes what this man is offering is beautifully rendered. Michal is seated in a stunning white wedding dress on a white couch against a white wall. In the final moments, at the peak of her crisis, when Michal leans forward to listen to this man explain that he wants to marry her, she is in such soft focus and the warm tones of her face are so starkly different from her dress that we experience visually the emotional surreality that Michal is experiencing. She is out of touch and disconnected and looking for all the world like a confused angel about to sing in her own music video. It’s a bravura visual ending to the film and a wonderful catharsis.
The Wedding Plan is a delightful and romantic film and, despite all the emotional stakes, is also a sweet-but-not-too-sweet comedy about one woman grappling with what she wants from life and who, despite her wobbles, finds the ingredients for happily ever after from a tremendous act of faith born of crisis so great it requires not only her belief but the faith of her friends as well.
Running Time: One hour and 50 minutes.