If Rama Burshtein's The Wedding Plan were a Hollywood production, it would likely star someone along the lines of a Katherine Heigl or a Mila Kunis or any number of other actresses whose gifts for comedy would be important as Hollywood would, without a doubt, wring every possible laugh out of the script.
If we were lucky, I suppose, the script mind find its way to someone along the lines of a Nia Vardalos, whose ability to dignify diverse cultures while finding the laughs in everyday life are most definitely nicely suited to a project like this one.
But, The Wedding Plan isn't a Hollywood film. In fact, it's not even an American film. It doesn't star Katherine Heigl or Mila Kunis or Nia Vardalos.
It stars Noa Koler as 32-year-old Michal, an Orthodox Jewish woman who is one month away from her long desired marriage to a man, Gidi (Erez Drigues), who has just announced that he doesn't love her and calls off the wedding. We've seen movies along this line before, mostly bland romantic comedies whose names I can't even be bothered to remember right now.
You know what they are. You've seen them.
The Wedding Plan is different. The Wedding Plan is as much about the longing for love as it is any silly ole' story line about trying to arrange a quick marriage. The Wedding Plan is, in fact, as much about faith as it is about that symbol of loving - the wedding.
Despite there being times when it feels like Burshtein can't quite decide whether or not The Wedding Plan is a light romantic comedy or a dramedy pierced by social insights, the film is ultimately as satisfying as Burshtein's first feature Fill the Void, a film that somewhat similarly delved into the Orthodox world of arranged marriages and life expectations. Burshtein's Michal is a different creation, a quirkier woman more assertive and self-confident yet equally grounded in a deep faith that seems to fully buy into marriage as the penultimate experience of an Orthodox Jewish woman's life experience and the lack of a marriage as a devastating personal failure.
The Wedding Plan isn't, despite what some more progressive viewpoints might say, a misogynistic film. Instead, it's a film faithful in its cultural interpretation and brimming with an honesty seldom captured on the big screen and certainly seldom seen in American movie theaters. Picked up by Roadside Attractions for a limited nationwide arthouse release, The Wedding Plan opens in Indianapolis at the Landmark Keystone Art Cinema on June 2nd and deserves to find an audience.
The Wedding Plan works as well as it does on the strength of Noa Koler's marvelous performance that radiates a richness of humanity, a lightness of humor and a depth seldom seen in a film such as this one. She's a joy and The Wedding Plan is the kind of film that made me instantly want to look up her work and watch her over and over again.
The Wedding Plan is at its funniest when Michal, fresh off her rejection by Gidi, decides to move forward with her wedding plans faithfully believing that God will provide her a groom. It's absurd, at least on some level, but Burshtein's script beautifully humanizes it and Koler brings it to life in ways that are heartfelt and humorous including a series of dates with good men, almost too good, but not quite "the" man. When she takes a pilgrimage to Breslov Hasidic Founder Rabbi Nachman's tomb in Ukraine, she inadvertently meets Yoss (Oz Zehavi), an Israeli pop singer with whom she shares a connection but not a faith.
For the most part, The Wedding Plan goes where one expects it to go with some mild variations given Burshtein's faithfulness to the Orthodox Jewish culture. Refreshingly, this culture is not played for laughs despite those times that Burshtein does find the authentic humor in the increasingly unique situations.
Part fairy tale and part simple romantic comedy, The Wedding Plan is an absolute gem of a film filled with universal messages about faith, family, hope, expectation and longing. It will make you laugh and it may even make you shed a tear or two. It's definitely a film you should see when it arrives at a theater near you.
© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic