In her second feature film, Israeli-American writer-director Rama Burshtein (“Fill the Void”) delivers a unique film that falls somewhere between a romantic comedy and a drama. It has some romance and certainly some funny one-liners, but “The Wedding Plan” is anything but a typical rom-com. The film stars Noa Kooler (“Youth”) as Michal, a quirky orthodox Jewish woman in her early 30s searching desperately for a husband. When she finally gets engaged, her fiancé freaks out and calls off the wedding. Michal, however, has other plans. Her goal is to keep the wedding date, but find a replacement groom before her big day. Michal’s many suitors include an Israeli rock star, a man too religious to look her in the eye, a surprisingly good-looking Rabbi and a friendly snake named Avi. The film sometimes plays like an extended episode of “The Bachelorette,” where the single lady must find love in 20 episodes or less, but Michal only has 30 days before her wedding — the script is tighter and there is no “Whaboom.”
Take the determination of Jennifer Lopez in “The Wedding Planner” minus Matthew McConaughey, add a desperate Katherine Heigl à la “27 Dresses,” factor in a slew of awkward first dates (see “Master of None” Season 2, Episode 4), toss it all in a pot of chicken soup by basing it in Jerusalem, throw in a community of ultra-Orthodox Jews and then you know the gist of “The Wedding Plan.” While the film may not be a conventional American rom-com, it mimics the style and execution of one, including the sassy best friend, the emotional breakdown and several meet-cutes. Kooler is marvelous as Michal, creating a character driven equally by both faith and fear. She is devout in her service of God, but Michal frequently teeters on the edge of doubt in the most vulnerable of times.
Burshtein, like the characters she depicts on screen, is an ultra-Orthodox Jew. Her experiences in that highly restrictive, religious world influence her work and the stories she creates. From matchmakers with fish blood to fervently praying in Ukraine, “The Wedding Plan” captures the culture and tradition of a world typically unseen. While the film takes place in our present, it sometimes feels reminiscent of a Jane Austen past in which a woman can only be happy with a good husband by her side. The film highlights the pressure women feel, especially in the Orthodox community, to get married and start a family. Michal is eccentric and a bit insane, but she is still part of a world in which being single is seen as a detrimental character flaw. While the film proves to depict a strong leading lady with unshakable faith and witty banter, she is so preoccupied with the fear of being alone that she fails to discover what makes her truly happy.
Whether the “plan” works or not, Burshtein’s “The Wedding Plan” is entertaining and insightful without being preachy. The viewer is invested in Michal’s journey almost as much as the character is herself, and even if she is thoroughly insane, the audience really wants her to be happy. Additionally, the film offers a view inside the world and culture of Michal’s religious community. Burshtein ends “The Wedding Plan” in a similar way to her award-winning first film “Fill the Void.” The camera centers on the face of our heroine, her expression ambiguous. Is she happy? Is she terrified? Has she made a mistake? That is for the viewer to decide.