Writer-director Rama Burshtein is a New York-born filmmaker with an uncompromising focus on revealing the lives of Israeli women struggling within the restrictive confines of religion and culture when it comes to marriage. Her first feature film, 2012’s Fill the Void, told the story of a very young Hasidic Jewish woman steered into an arranged marriage with a much-older widower. Her latest, The Wedding Plan, follows Michal (Noa Koler), a similar character in crisis who, on the eve of her wedding, gets dumped by her fiancé. Rather than cancel the arrangements 30 days out, Michal decides to go ahead with the plans, insistent in her belief that God will provide her with a husband.
The Wedding Plan seems aligned with the now standard Hollywood rom-com genre. Michal is the kind of plain-Jane type that we know will be transformed into a striking beauty when the time is right. She has two female foils with relationship problems of their own that serve as counter-points to Michal’s dilemma and a mother (Irit Sheleg) who superficially supports her daughter’s choice, but is deeply concerned about how the community views her.
With the spotlight on the Orthodox Jewish world, Michal uses a matchmaker rather than social media to set up dating encounters, which unfold like the parade of comic misadventures we would expect. But underneath the jokey hijinks, Burshtein offers truly meaningful insights without sacrificing or compromising cultural specifics. At its heart, The Wedding Plan is about a woman of faith, a genuine figure we rarely see in movies of this sort, who is not a simply an easy punch line. Michal and her journey is a richly dramatized experience with subtle expressions of sensuality and romantic longing.
There is a raggedy feel to the construction of the story, which might be off-putting to audiences used to the glossy sheen of a Hollywood approach to the material, but I found myself cheering for Michal and her one-of-a-kind Plan because it dares to hold onto its convictions. It’s that level of commitment that leads to something more than a fairy tale ending. (Opens Friday) (PG) Grade: B+