‘The Wedding Plan’ is both unorthodox and ultra-Orthodox

( PG ) ( Monitor Movie Guide )

An American-Israeli director follows up her earlier movie success with a rom-com about a woman who tries to find a suitor to marry on a schedule.

Courtesy of Roadside Attractions
(L. to r.) Ronny Merhavi, Noa Koler, and Dafi Alferon star in 'The Wedding Plan.'

One of the most unlikely recent movie successes was the marital drama “Fill the Void,” written and directed by Rama Burshtein, an American-Israeli woman who follows the tenets of ultra-Orthodox Judaism.

Although one could argue that those tenets discourage women from directing movies, this seems not to have deterred Burshtein, whose second feature, “The Wedding Plan,” is as unlikely as its predecessor, and almost as good.

Michal (Noa Koler) is 32 and engaged, after 11 years of looking for a husband. Her fiancé suddenly decides to cancel the wedding a month before the event, for which the guests have already been invited and the hall rented, saying he does not love her.

Michal thanks him for his honesty – she is nothing if not courteous – and then channels her despair into finding a new suitor in order to marry on schedule.

This may sound like the setup for a Hollywood rom-com, and, at its most conventional, that is indeed what it resembles. But Burshtein isn’t trying to make “My Big Fat Israeli Wedding.” The reason “The Wedding Plan” rises above its flippancies is not only because of the novelty of its Israeli trappings but also because Michal is such an ingratiating whirlwind.

Raised in a nonreligious household, Michal’s embrace of Orthodox Judaism is central to her identity. When we first see her, in a scene made extraordinary, for general audiences, by its plainspoken exoticism, she visits an old lady who specializes in removing the bad aura from spinsters. Michal admits to her that the real reason she wants to be married is that she wants to feel normal.

She wants respect in an Orthodox culture where single women are stigmatized. And because Michal, who is not unattractive, subscribes to so much within that culture, she never challenges its assumptions. If she did, she might run counter not only to her own beliefs but to Burshtein’s.

The movie’s depiction of the experiences of an Orthodox woman who is never moved to rebel against her orthodoxies is both its charm and its limitation. A more complex movie would have explored Michal’s struggles, or lack thereof, within the context of the wider secular Israeli society. But, to be fair, this describes a different movie from the one Burshtein chose to make.

The one requirement Michal insists upon in a prospective suitor is that he be religious. She believes that, as the wedding deadline approaches, God will provide for her.

The most powerful subtext to “The Wedding Plan” is that, for her, Michal’s quest is a test of her religious devotion. This is why the funny scenes in this movie are never really just funny.

And there are many funny scenes. Burshtein includes a series of comic vignettes in which Michal goes on arranged dinner dates with Orthodox men who turn out to be howlingly unsuitable: One refuses to look at her because, for him, to do so would taint their communion; a gruff deaf man brings along an interpreter; another condescends to Michal while praising her “nutty energy.”

He’s right, at least, about the energy. Michal owns a mobile petting zoo stocked with everything from rabbits to snakes, and she covers the children’s party circuit. She’s highly structured in her religious life but in every other respect pretty scattershot. Impulsively she makes a pilgrimage to Ukraine to pray for guidance at the tomb of a revered rabbi, and while there she meets Yos (Oz Zehavi), a hippie-ish but somewhat devout pop singer who is touched by her gumption and vulnerability.

Lest you think this dreamboat is God’s answer, remember that Burshtein is not a facile filmmaker. She may believe in cosmic happy endings, but she knows that what happens on earth is often not so secure. Grade: B+ (In Hebrew, with English subtitles. Rated PG for thematic elements.)

You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.
Real news can be honest, hopeful, credible, constructive.
What is the Monitor difference? Tackling the tough headlines – with humanity. Listening to sources – with respect. Seeing the story that others are missing by reporting what so often gets overlooked: the values that connect us. That’s Monitor reporting – news that changes how you see the world.

Dear Reader,

About a year ago, I happened upon this statement about the Monitor in the Harvard Business Review – under the charming heading of “do things that don’t interest you”:

“Many things that end up” being meaningful, writes social scientist Joseph Grenny, “have come from conference workshops, articles, or online videos that began as a chore and ended with an insight. My work in Kenya, for example, was heavily influenced by a Christian Science Monitor article I had forced myself to read 10 years earlier. Sometimes, we call things ‘boring’ simply because they lie outside the box we are currently in.”

If you were to come up with a punchline to a joke about the Monitor, that would probably be it. We’re seen as being global, fair, insightful, and perhaps a bit too earnest. We’re the bran muffin of journalism.

But you know what? We change lives. And I’m going to argue that we change lives precisely because we force open that too-small box that most human beings think they live in.

The Monitor is a peculiar little publication that’s hard for the world to figure out. We’re run by a church, but we’re not only for church members and we’re not about converting people. We’re known as being fair even as the world becomes as polarized as at any time since the newspaper’s founding in 1908.

We have a mission beyond circulation, we want to bridge divides. We’re about kicking down the door of thought everywhere and saying, “You are bigger and more capable than you realize. And we can prove it.”

If you’re looking for bran muffin journalism, you can subscribe to the Monitor for $15. You’ll get the Monitor Weekly magazine, the Monitor Daily email, and unlimited access to CSMonitor.com.

QR Code to ‘The Wedding Plan’ is both unorthodox and ultra-Orthodox
Read this article in
QR Code to Subscription page
Start your subscription today