“THE WEDDING PLAN” — 3 stars — Dafi Alferon, Noa Koler, Oded Leopold, Ronny Merhavi; PG (thematic elements); Broadway
It’s remarkable to think of how easy it would be to retune “The Wedding Plan” into a traditional romantic comedy. But maybe it’s better no one did.
“The Wedding Plan” tells the story of a single Jewish woman in Jerusalem who resorts to unorthodox means to find a husband. Michal (Noa Koler) is still a young woman, but after more than a decade of dating, she feels a crushing frustration. When the film opens, she sits down with a matchmaker (Odelia Moreh-Matallon), and is soon engaged to a devout young man named Gidi (Erez Drigues). Then Gidi breaks their engagement and links up with Michal’s roommate Ziv (Karin Serrouya) instead.
Michal’s opening conversation with the matchmaker is revealing. Initially, she simply says she wants to be married. But after some prodding, eventually Michal confesses to myriad painful emotions and desires. Yes, she wants to be married but, more importantly, she wants to be loved. She wants to feel normal. She is tired of feeling humiliated all the time.
Perhaps it’s these deeper emotions that inspire her next move. Michal heads down to a local reception hall owned by the matchmaker’s son Shimi (Amos Tamam), and books a marriage ceremony for the eighth night of Hannukah, in just over three weeks’ time. She doesn’t have a fiancé yet, but God willing, her leap of faith will deliver.
Michal complements this bold if questionable move by jumping headfirst into the local dating scene. She goes out with a man who won’t look her in the eye. She goes out with a deaf man who has to communicate through a translator, since Michal doesn’t understand sign language. She goes on a pilgrimage to the tomb of a famous rabbi in Ukraine, where she has an unexpected encounter with Yos (Oz Zehavi), a childhood friend turned mega-pop star. But as the day approaches, she remains single.
Along the way, we get to know some of the people in her life. Her sister Noam's (Dafi Alferon) dysfunctional marriage suggests that matrimony is anything but the end of your problems. Another roommate — the one that didn’t steal her fiancé — begins dating a Japanese man who has converted to devout Judaism.
There’s a slight quirkiness to the proceedings that will make many audiences think of 2002’s “My Big Fat Greek Wedding,” another culture-centered romance. Michal runs a mobile petting zoo out of a van, and even bears a slight resemblance to Nia Vardalos’ Toula.
But where romantic comedies like “Greek Wedding” use sincerity to break up the comedy, “Wedding Plan” flips the pattern. Audiences may be surprised to see such a vivid depiction of loneliness and increasing desperation, which, fortunately, doesn't lose itself wallowing in self-pity.
Setting a date for a wedding with no groom may sound like the setup for a comic romp, but “Wedding Plan” is 100 percent sincere. It’s a candid and revealing look at the relationship between faith and action, fueled by the bitterness of loneliness. “We’re all pale,” insists Michal. We all have reasons to be sad.
Such an approach creates extra pressure for a strong finish, and viewers who enjoy the bulk of “The Wedding Plan” may be divided over its ending. But regardless, director Rama Burshtein’s effort is a thoughtful and unique film that will be relatable to anyone who had to work a little to find love, even if it didn’t take them quite so long.
“The Wedding Plan” is rated PG for thematic elements; it is presented in Hebrew with English subtitles; running time: 110 minutes.