Rama Burshtein’s sophomore film The
opens with one of the best scenes I have seen on screen all year -- and then goes
We are introduced to Michal, an Orthodox woman in her early
30s, in a waiting room filled with women (and only women). Her eyes are fixed
on a door. When will the door open? When will she receive permission to enter? Michal
is so anxious that when a handsome man cuts in front of her, she looks ready to
bite his head off. But once the door is open, Hulda -- a
whose inner sanctum is filled with photos of famous Hassidic Rabbis -- ushers Michal in and urges her to relax.
Pointing to a vat of dough, Hulda (Odelia Moreh-Matalon) instructs
Michal (Noa Koler) to knead it, which Michal does, reluctantly at first, and
then with increasing ferocity. Hulda -- with an “I thought I had seen it all”
look on her face -- laughs, then sits Michal down at a table, takes her hands,
and asks: “What do you want?”
gives the usual answers, but Hulda rejects them. Exasperated, Hulda says she
cannot help unless Michal is honest, but how can Michal be honest with Hulda if
she cannot be honest with herself? She wants a husband. She wants love. She
wants respect. She wants to please God. She wants a life different than the one
she has. Simply put, she wants it all. Relax, says Hulda. You will have it, and
my son Shimi -- that handsome guy who jumped the queue -- he just happens to
own a wedding hall and he will give you a good discount.
the next scene at the wedding hall where Shimi (Amos Tamam) is serving samples
to Michal and her fiancé Gidi (Erez Drigues), a fine young Haredi man with the
requisite black coat and payot dangling in front of each ear. There is no
explanation of how Michal and Gidi met, nor how long they have been together.
All Burshtein -- who both directed The
Wedding Plan and wrote the screenplay -- tells us is that Michal is about
to get married and everything is perfect. Right? Of course not. This is merely
the middle of Act One.
point most of my colleagues will tell you that Michal is jilted by her fiancé,
but that is not true. What actually happens is that Michal nags Gidi so
peevishly that the badgered beau finally flees. Setting herself up as the
victim, Michal now challenges God to do better. She keeps the reservation at
the wedding hall because she has faith that God will provide a groom by the
last night of Chanukah (a mere month away).
clearly lacking something, but what can it be besides the fact that Burshtein needs a plot hook? The answer is as
obvious as the fact that Chanukah has eight nights. Michal may have told Hulda
that she wanted all those conventional things that all good girls say they want,
but like all rom-com heroines, what Michal really craves is chemistry.
next hour, Michal endures a series of awful dates (presumably all arranged by legitimate
matchmakers), punctuated by a poignant meet-up with a pop star named Yos
(played by real Israeli pop star Oz Zehavi). Along the way, Michal does meet
Mr. Right, but Mr. Right is not immediately available for all the usual rom-com
reasons, until, at the last minute, all the pseudo-obstacles suddenly vanish.
Hooray for Michal.
someone who attends Shabbat Services almost every Saturday and has her own
complicated relationship with faith, the laws of the Torah, and the God of her
ancestors, I feel entitled to tell you I found absolutely nothing “religious”
in The Wedding Plan. While the
syncretic aspects of contemporary Judaism certainly have anthropological
interest -- the Rabbanit who dispenses folk
wisdom while slapping Michal’s face with fish blood, the trip to Ukraine to pray
at the tomb of Rabbi Nachman -- it is all just window dressing.
to be the only film critic who has these intensely negative reactions to Burshtein’s work, so take this review -- or maybe I should call it a rant -- with a grain of salt. In my review of her first film Fill the Void, I urged Burshtein to “focus on
directing and get herself a better screenwriter.”
But it is precisely because I had seen Fill the Void (twice) that I knew who Mr. Right was in The Wedding Plan long before many of the potential candidates had even made their first
And so, I dutifully saw The
Wedding Plan a second time too, just to make sure I hadn’t missed
anything “important” the first time. And so, once again, I feel entitled to tell
you that once you know for sure who Mr. Right
is, the plot of The Wedding Plan is so preposterous that it is almost embarrassing.
And as a feminist film critic, I loathe the fact that while The Wedding Plan certainly does pass the Bechdel-Wallace
Test, all of the female characters -- with
the sole exception of Hulda -- are woefully underdeveloped. A mother, a
sister, a best friend, a roommate, a client, and a mysterious handicapped woman
are all used as plot devices with minimal individuation and absolutely no
backstories. We do not even know when Michal herself became religious (since
her mother and sister clearly are not). And while she seems to have enough
money to live in a deluxe apartment and still give Shimi the deposit he requires
for a huge event at his wedding hall, her job (which we only see her do -- and
do badly -- in one scene) is a joke.
yes -- Noa Koler gives a great performance as Michal, just as Hadas Yaron did in Fill the Void. So I do not
begrudge either actress her Ophir Award for Best Actress of her year. And since
they are both big screen novices, these awards from the Israel Film Academy say
a lot about Burshtein’s skill as a director. But
in both films, she cast secular Israeli heartthrobs as her leading man, and
that says a lot about Burshtein’s skill as a director too.
If I could lock Burshtein in Hulda’s office, slap her face
with fish blood, and ask her what she really wants, I think the answer would be
commercial success, and she knows as well as I do that
sex is the sine qua non of rom-com success in every language currently spoken on
The Wedding Plan
opens on May 19 at multiple Metro Chicago theatres including the AMC River East
in Streeterville, the Landmark Century Center in Lincoln Park, the
Century/CineArts in Evanston, and the Landmark Renaissance Place in Highland
this link for times and tickets.
For specific complaints about The Wedding Plan (with spoiler alerts), read
more on my blog.
Top Photo: Hulda (Odelia Moreh-Matalon) and
Michal (Noa Koler) in the inner sanctum.
Bottom Photo: Michal’s sister (Dafi
Alferon) drives Michal and her BFF Feggie (Ronni Merhavi)
to Shimi’s wedding hall on the big day.