For a movie classified as a romantic comedy, The Wedding Plan dispenses with some of our key conceptions of romance – affection, chemistry, love – pretty quickly. In the opening scene of the Jerusalem-set film, a 32-year-old Orthodox Jewish woman named Michal confesses to the matchmaker/miracle worker/baker she’s sought out that she’s been looking for a husband for 11 years. The older woman asks Michal over and over what she wants, accusing her of lying when she says she’s looking for love. Eventually pushed to the brink, a frustrated Michal finally sputters the honest answer: “I want to be normal! I’m sick of being handicapped.”
Michal is tired of being unmarried because of what it means for her life, but also because of what it means for her status in her community. When she does become engaged, her fiancé dumps her less than a month before their wedding, and Michal has had enough. She decides his decision not to go through with the wedding doesn’t change hers – she continues to plan for the wedding, deciding to put her faith in God to provide the groom. As she explains it, “I’m not obsessed with getting married, but I want this drama to be over. And for this story to have a happy ending.” It turns out that Michal’s version of romance doesn’t fit the more modern definition that includes moonlight walks or and red roses, but rather the more classic definition that involves adventure and impracticality.
It also may not seem especially romantic to want to find a partner simply because of the opportunity and societal connections that having a spouse will offer you, but for many people – especially women – it reflects some level of reality. Although The Wedding Plan is the story of an Orthodox Jewish woman in Israel, much of the well-observed depiction of Michal’s experience of being treated differently as a single woman will feel relatable to women of all kinds of different faith and cultural backgrounds. The film teases out themes of religion, feminism, and marriage in ways that we don’t usually see in movies. Michal is taking charge of her life and going after the thing she wants in a way that is brave. The fact that the thing she wants is a life partnership doesn’t make her any less courageous.
Some of the traditional formulas and tropes of romantic comedy are shifted around by writer/director Rama Burshtein (Fill the Void) in The Wedding Plan, but others feel familiar, and the resulting balance works to make the story darkly funny and moving by turn. As Michal’s wedding day approaches, she’s set up with a number of “eligible” men, and she stumbles upon a couple of others. The timeline is tight, but this isn’t a sneaky caper comedy wherein Michal is trying to trick someone into falling in love with her as a clock ticks down. She has faith, and she’s honest about what she’s doing and what she’s looking for. Very honest. The way her honesty impacts the encounters and conversations she has with potential husbands varies from charming to refreshing to alarming to heartbreaking, sometimes all in one conversation.
And you feel each and every one of those things because of Noa Koler’s fantastic performance as Michal. The premise of the film sets a strong foundation and the unique candor in the writing will capture the audience’s interest, but it’s Koler’s work as Michal that makes the movie so much fun. As the wedding day gets closer and the tone of the film shifts from adventurous with a hint of rebellion to anxious with a hint of desperation, Koler has to do the heavy lifting of showing that even as Michal remains committed to her decision, her faith is tested. She has to come to terms with the possibility that, as her mother suggested, there may be a difference between what God can do and what God wants to do.
The Wedding Plan turns out to be an exploration of the space where romance and practicality overlap, and what we talk about when we talk about settling or independence or even feminism or love. Michal’s story isn’t conventional by movie standards or by real life standards, but whose is? As she tells one of the possible husbands she meets, “It’s much simpler than you think…Finding the love of your life 12 days before Hanukkah is no more a miracle than meeting him at all.”