‘Wedding Plan’ delivers an Orthodox Jewish rom-com

Noa Koler stars in ‘The Wedding Plan.’ Photo courtesy of Roadside Attractions  

By Cate Marquis, Special to the Jewish Light

From the director of the Israeli drama “Fill The Void” comes a decidedly different take on Orthodox marriage in Israel, the romantic comedy “The Wedding Plan.” 

Funny and surprising, Rama Burshtein’s “The Wedding Plan” offers a clever twist on an old rom-com idea, simultaneously overturning assumptions about Orthodox women in Israel while entertaining us with a delightful, quirky comedy. 

The film, Burshtein’s second feature, won Ophir Awards — the Israeli Oscars — for best actress, best screenplay and best costume design, and has been screened at the Sundance, Toronto and New York film festivals.

Wedding plans are underway when Michal’s (Noa Koler) fiancé suddenly backs out. The Orthodox bride-to-be decides to go ahead anyway. She sets the wedding for the last day of Hanukkah, which gives her just 30 days for her own eighth-day miracle: finding the right groom. Her family and friends thinks she’s crazy, but Michal has faith. 

Setting a ticking-clock deadline for someone to get married is a time-honored romantic comedy idea, going back at least to Buster Keaton’s great silent classic “Seven Chances.” But what sounds like the familiar basis for a rom-com is anything but ordinary in “The Wedding Plan.” 

This charming comedy is packed with thoughtful reflections on faith and with surprise twists. Burshtein is a bit of a surprise herself, as ultra-Orthodox women living in Israel rarely are film directors. Upsetting assumptions about Israeli ultra-Orthodox women seems to be one of the director’s aims here, as well as making us laugh while offering some thoughts on the nature of faith. 

At 32, Michal is rather old for a bride in her Orthodox community, and she feels the pressure. To find a groom, she visits two matchmakers and goes on a series of blind dates. The one requirement Michal asks of these suitors is that they also be members of the Breslov sect of Hasidism. 

It sounds kind of sad and desperate, but Koler makes Michal so appealing that it is much more comic, and it is hard not to fall for this spunky character. Despite having started the clock ticking, Michal is not willing to marry just anyone; she really is looking for the right match. Her thinking is that if G-d means her to be married, the right man will appear. The blind dates are part of the humor, but they also offer insight on the role of women in this Orthodox community, as well as Michal herself. 

In some ways, Michal is a classic rom-com character: a cute, funny, energetic young woman with a head of reddish brown curls. She has a quirky career running a mobile petting zoo with her roommate, Feigi (Ronny Merhavi), her best friend. Subplots abound around roommates, Michal’s mother, her crazy married sister and men, of course. 

But Burshtein turns these comic types inside out and upside down, shaking out surprising insights on faith and people, along with a great deal of human warmth and humor. At the same time, the director skillfully keeps the audience in true suspense to the end. 

“The Wedding Plan” is a visual treat, with colorful costumes and locations. Director of photography Amit Yasur often a series of stunning, lush views of Israeli rural landscapes and city settings that are an extra delight. 

The story itself is more about faith than religion, and about being open to life and its possibilities. Although what she is doing seems kind of nuts, Michal’s mother and friends stick with her. Her meetings with prospective dates are sometimes harsh or offer insight into women in Orthodox society. An encounter with an Israeli pop star, played by a Israeli heartthrob and movie star Oz Zehavi, is delightful romantic fun. 

Though a comedy, Burshtein’s “The Wedding Plan” strikes a perfect balance between funny and serious, seamlessly weaving in sharp insights beneath the humor.