The trailer for “The Wedding Plan” leads one to believe the film is a light-hearted rom-com about a zany plot to get hitched, hatched by an unmarried Orthodox Israeli woman with a lot of pluck.
But that is not exactly true.
Rather, the film is much more about faith in God than the desire to get married, a modern fairy tale but with a deep, spiritual twist.
At the beginning of the film, Michal, who is 32 and has been dating for 11 years, seeks the council of an older, woman — a mystic — about her difficulty in finding a husband. The woman asks Michal over and over again: “What do you want?” When Michal responds that she wants to get married, the woman chides her: “Don’t lie.” Finally, Michal begins to weep, saying, “I want to be normal; I want to be respected.”
The message comes through loud and clear: The only way for Michal to feel “normal” and “respected” is if she is a wife.
Orthodox director Rama Burshtein, who is based in Israel, told The Forward in an interview earlier this month that she is “not at all” a feminist. And yet her “Wedding Plan” protagonist, Michal, is a bit of an enigma, with her personality showing hints of feminism — and a fierce independence — despite her claim that she needs a man to be complete. Michal says she will not be respected without a husband, but she is nonetheless an accomplished woman in her own right, who operates a mobile petting zoo, handles snakes and is not afraid to be brutally honest about herself to total strangers.
When Michal’s engagement to a Haredi man falls apart shortly before the wedding, she nevertheless rents a wedding hall, buys a dress and sends out invitations to her nuptials to take place on the eighth night of Chanukah, in less than a month. The invitation reads “mystery groom,” and Michal tells everyone who will listen that she has unwavering faith that God will provide the groom.
This is the second film from American-Israeli writer and director Burshtein (“Fill the Void”). It was a nominee for Best Film at the 2016 Venice Film Festival.
Burshtein was born in New York in 1967 and raised in Israel. She graduated from the Sam Spiegel Film and Television School in Jerusalem in 1994, and it was during those years she became deeply religious.
Michal’s feeling that she is not “normal” without a husband is reflective of the feeling many people have who have not found a partner by a certain stage of their lives, explained Burshtein, speaking by phone from Israel.
“When someone reaches an age, when they didn’t find a partner, and the love, and the family, they feel a little bit not comfortable as people,” Burshtein said. “They go to their family, or they go to their friends, and everyone is having their partners, and they feel humiliated. I see it from my friends who are not religious. Michal feels that she is not normal because she didn’t find him yet. Everywhere she goes, everyone is looking at her and saying, ‘This girl is not normal. If she was normal she would probably find the love of her life.’”
While so much artistic work that features Orthodox protagonists struggles to do well among secular audiences, “The Wedding Plan” seems to be bucking that trend and proving to have wide appeal.
“I think at the end it’s not about religion, and it’s not about the wedding,” Burshtein explained. “It’s about movement and hope, and this is something everyone struggles with and everyone knows about.”
Following one screening, a 25-year-old gay atheist, who had a partner, told Burshtein: “‘I feel I could see this film a million times because it gives you strength to do something you’re afraid to do,’” she recounted. “I think it’s not only about romance. It’s about believing in good and believing a hundred percent that things are possible. And I think this is something everyone needs.”
The movie opens at the Manor Theatre on May 26.
Toby Tabachnick can be reached at email@example.com.