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Some women crash the gates at the blowout sales of high-end bridal shops with the intention of buying a couture dress on the cheap, regardless of whether a groom is in the picture. In writer-director Rama Burshtein’s The Wedding Plan, however, her heroine goes several steps further. Twenty-two days before their wedding, Michal (Noa Koler) and Gidi (Erez Drigues) are at a tasting to choose the menu for their reception. Michal, sure that something’s wrong, pressures Gidi to open up. “I don’t love you,” he says. Oy.
Naturally, Michal is crushed. She’s 32, an Orthodox Jew, and desperately wants to settle down like her peers. In a flashback, she consults a fortune teller (for lack of a better term) who gets Michal to admit that she doesn’t just want love. She wants to feel normal. Because none of her relationships have worked out, she believes there’s something wrong with her. Gidi’s rejection only piles on.
So instead of allowing herself to be swallowed by grief, Michal continues to plan the wedding, believing that God will provide. She books the hall, sends out invitations, gets a dress. Her faith will save her from embarrassment.
Burshtein (Fill the Void) has fashioned a romantic comedy that’s free of wacky misunderstandings, cartoonish suitors, or sassy best friends. Even if Michal’s grand gesture isn’t realistic, the rest of her experience is. She has a job—running a mobile petting zoo—and is shown working. She spars with her sister (Dafi Alferon), whose own marriage is full of melodrama, and tries to ignore her mother (Irit Sheleg), who isn’t nearly as religious and is therefore ashamed of her daughter’s actions. Everyone tries to gently dissuade Michal, though a couple of people are more pointed. “Who gave you the right?” asks a rabbi, who’s critical of her feeling so special that God will grant her exactly what she wants.
As Michal goes on blind dates arranged by matchmakers, there are a few red herrings, including a swoony pop star, thrown in among the red flagged and humiliations. (Dinner with a deaf man is particularly painful.) But she’s not the type to plant herself in front of the TV with a pint of ice cream when she’s blue. Michal prays, and breaks down when she starts to feel spiritually alone as well: “Where are you?” she asks in tears. “I can’t feel you.”
Some of Michal’s actions may seem puzzling in the moment, including her rather angry takedown of the aforementioned pop star. And as her wedding date draws near, the whole gambit starts to feel unforgivably ridiculous. But to Burshtein’s credit, Michal’s path toward the aisle is never predictable, and it’s more about faith, self-acceptance, and an unwillingness to compromise than it is about landing a guy. Despite a plot that sounds absurd, this Plan goes off without a hitch.
The Wedding Plan opens Friday at Landmark E Street Cinema and Landmark Bethesda Row.