Imagine this scenario on paper. A groom announces to his bride that he doesn’t love her … just a month before the wedding. Bride keeps the wedding date and believes the right man will come along regardless. She goes through a series of dates, eventually being wooed by an aging rock singer and a down-to-earth religious man.
The supposition that this defines the latest Hollywood rom-com (or for that matter an early 2000’s Jennifer Lopez vehicle) would be a terrific guess. Yet, in the capable hands of female director Rama Burshtein, this is The Wedding Plan, an Israeli-set subtitled drama whose message is much more altruistic than any of those assembly line efforts Hollywood has a predilection for green lighting. I’d even dare call The Wedding Plan a biting and often somber character piece about the failure of people to capture the imaginary ideal of “happily ever after.”
An example of this biting (and non-traditional) aspect lies in the scene where Michal (Noa Koler), after being dumped by her Orthodox Jewish fiance in the opening moments, goes on yet another date set up by a relationship fixer in the Jewish community. When asked by the male suitor why she didn’t go out with him the previous year but is doing so now, Michal warily answers because of “despair.” Naturally, the spell of possible mutual attraction is broken, and so it goes with a good majority of The Wedding Plan. Constantly churning expectations and downplaying any peppy episodic laughs, Burshtein (who also wrote the film) is clearly aiming for something deeper and more substantial.
Despite her inept dating attempts, two possible male interests do begin to circle Michal. On a short pilgrimage out of town, she meets pop singer Yos (Oz Zehavo) and a dynamic (and again surprising) relationship forms between them. There’s also Shimi (Amos Tamam), who owns the wedding hall where Michal plans to hold her ceremony, groom or not. The way in which these relationships develop and shift reveals Burshtein’s deft touch in how people interact, and the sublime performance given by Koler maintains a realistic edge of a woman desperately wanting love but not willing to compromise her purity or intellect.
The second film by Burshtein, whose 2012 film Fill the Void would make for an easy companion piece about the unexpected rigors of arranged marriage, The Wedding Plan builds to an amorphous finale in which the wedding day has come and Michal gets donned up and proceeds down the aisle.
Taking place in virtual real-time with friends and family members constantly whispering in her ear about the uncomfortable spectacle they’re a part of, both films belie a natural distrust of the institute of marriage. Or at least the manner in which some cultural sects go about staging them. If it wasn’t filtered with just enough laughs throughout to aptly describe The Wedding Plan as a sort of comedy, I’d say Burshtein is a ravaging critic of her heritage’s long-standing customs. That alone is something we don’t get often enough these days.
The Wedding Plan will open in the Dallas/Fort Worth area on Friday, May 26 at the Landmark Magnolia and Angelika Plano locations.