Honestly, I feel like I say this a lot, but I didn’t really expect to have such strong feelings about this movie. But I’ve watched the Israeli movie The Wedding Plan twice now and it just captivates and delights me. Honestly, usual reason for rewatching movies is because I forgot everything that happened, but that’s not the case here. Though, while we’re on the topic of memory, please note that while The Wedding Plan used to be included with an Amazon Prime subscription, it’s now only available to rent. Therefore, we must rely mostly upon my memory for this review, and my memory, in large part from years of unending migraine attacks, is like a rusted-out sieve. So, this should be interesting. But, like the intrepid explorers we are, we will plow on into the great unknown of… Wait. What was I saying?
If you’re a regular watcher of romantic comedies, the initial premise of The Wedding Plan might feel pretty familiar. Michal (Noa Koler) is thirty-two and single. She’s tired of going on endless dead-end dates. When talking to a friend, she estimates that over the eleven years she’s been dating, she’s logged 490 hours with 123 men. She is done with it. She wants stability, companionship, and true love. It sounds like something you’d hear in a rom-com, right? You can imagine a 1990s Jennifer Aniston leaning over her cubicle to tell her plucky and bespectacled bestie all about her woes. But, the first difference between this and a more traditional rom-com is that Michal, like the director of the movie Rama Burshtein, is more traditional in that she’s a former secular Jew who is now part of the Breslov Hasidic community. All of her dates are arranged via a matchmaker and all of her potential suitors sit across from her wearing black suits, their bearded faces framed by their curled payot. People are people, though, so her dates are just as self-centered, sad, kind, lost, and poorly matched as they are in any other romantic movie.
In the beginning of the movie, Michal thinks she has finally found her match in Gidi (Erez Drigues), but at the menu tasting for their wedding—where they awkwardly sit side-by-side in the otherwise empty hall, platters of food laid out in front of them—she senses something is wrong. In between polite admonishments from Shimi (Amos Tamam), the hall owner, to begin eating, Michal insists that Gidi tell her the truth, and he finally concedes that he doesn’t love her. With that, their engagement is broken.
Michal is stung and single again, but she decides that, rather than give up, she will keep the wedding plans, and trust that God will provide her with a groom in time. Many people question whether Michal has the right to ask something like that from God, but her family and friends, and even Shimi at the wedding hall, are cautiously supportive of her enthusiasm while still bracing themselves for her fall. (And please don’t get me started on the little lines that crinkle around Shimi’s eyes when he smiles. Needless to say, I have many feelings. He has a GBF, for sure.)
In case you’re picturing Michal as a subservient woman, let me be clear that she is not. Surrounded by secularism, her religious faith is a conscious choice. Early on, as she sits in the waiting room at the matchmaker’s, she whispers Psalms to herself instead of watching the music video playing on television in the corner. And she is, in many senses, very satisfied with her life. She is the owner of a mobile petting zoo who, much to a mother’s horror, happily offers the girls at a birthday party the chance to pet a snake. Her profession also seems to throw off some of her potential suitors, but she unabashedly enjoys her work. She has a supportive circle of friends and family and a fulfilling life, but she also knows she has reached the point where she desires the intimacy of marriage. Sure, you could argue about the patriarchal structure that makes her feel like she needs to get married to feel whole. Or you could point out that she is still passive in her waiting to be chosen. But, friends, we are not going down that road right now. You know I’ll take that journey with you another day for sure, but here I’m choosing to focus on the human desire for connection and love.
Even with her outlandish plan, Michal is resolute that she doesn’t want to marry just anyone for the sake of marriage. She is looking for the miracle of true love, just on a very compressed timeline. She is radically forthright and direct with the parade of unsuitable men with whom she meets up along her path. We see snippets of several of Michal’s failed dates that range from funny to touching to devastating. While visiting Ukraine to pray at the tomb of a rabbi, she even shares a moment of unfulfilled yearning with a handsome pop star (Oz Zehavi). (I mean, if for no other reason you should watch this movie because where else are you going to see a thwarted meet-cute with a deeply attractive pop star that begins with a conversation through the wall at the burial site of the founder of a hasidic sect?!?)
Michal is sometimes giddy and sometimes desperate. She questions her decision, chastises herself, and briefly considers unrealistic comprises, but ultimately she remains steadfast in her faith and liberated by her choices. And look, Rama Burshtein’s perspective on faith is clearly religious and tied to God, but I don’t think that rules out being able to watch, enjoy, and derive meaning from this movie on a deeply secular level. I certainly did.
Throughout it all, Michal is supported and questioned and nudged and loved by her sister Noam (Dafi Shoshana-Alpern), who has her own tumultuous marriage; her mother (Irit Sheleg), who worries for Michal’s well-being and reputation; her blonde dreadlocked best friend Feigi (Ronny Merhavi) who is also searching for love; and her disabled friend (Sivan Mast), who offers advice (and here I doubt my memory a bit, but I think sarcasm as well). There’s a scene toward the end when the women are preparing Michal for her wedding—for which the groom is still TBD—that conveys so much about both the often hidden world of Orthodox Jewish women and the more universal world of female intimacy. It is both raucously joyous and heartbreakingly poignant.
Of course it’s probably obvious at this point that it’s not just the Orthodox Judaism that sets this movie apart from other romantic comedies. You could argue that it isn’t really a romantic comedy at all, but then you’d probably be someone with an actual background in film who could spout some theoretical stuff, and that someone is not me. So, I’ll just say that while this movie is quirky and funny and touching and has the elements of the romantic chase, it’s also much more about Michal and her internal struggle and faith.
In preparation for her wedding, Michal fasts to the point that she is near fainting. Riding in the back of her petting zoo van, while Feggie and her sister sing along to music, Michal falls asleep only to wake up upon their arrival even more dazed and confused. And the final scenes feel almost like a hallucination. In fact, at first I wondered if Michal was in fact hallucinating, but she’s not. And obviously I’m not going to tell you what happens (although I’m seriously dying to right now), but I will end this by saying that I think the final scene completely captures the ecstatic joy of being fully seen and loved exactly as we are.