When you see The Wedding Plan, which you must, you will leave the theater with a joyful heart. Regardless of your degree of religious or spiritual attachment, your appreciation for how everything falls into place will be as ecstatic as that of a child watching a rabbit summoned from an empty hat. Rama Burshtein, writer/director, works her magic in unusual ways. Her heroine Michal, played by Noa Kooler in a bravura performance, is a 30-something religious woman who has been dropped by her fiance and is now facing the realization of how desperately she yearns for the closeness of marriage and the normalcy it signifies in her community. She wants to be the hostess at Shabbat dinners instead of the perennial guest; she wants the holy warmth of being with someone who will care for her as much as she will care for him - forever. Though this is typical of other versions of the “princess bride,” Michal is not. She reminded me of an ultra-orthodox iteration of Seinfeld’s Elaine - a curly-haired, dark-eyed hellion who can be stubborn and temperamental but always radiantly alive and unconventionally lovable. Despite the breakup of her engagement, Michal determines that if she arranges for a wedding on the 8th day of Chanukah , a holiday of miracles, God will provide the correct groom.
There is extraordinary diversity in the characters who walk through this plot and they offer a surprising novelty to the stereotypes most viewers will have of ultra-orthodox people. Michal’s family and friends are unexpected - a tall attractive mother who wishes her daughter were not so religious, a beautiful sister who is both petulantly demanding and dependably loving, a best friend who is overweight with miles of blonde rasta-braids and her own charisma, a roommate who betrays her yet is forgiven. Michal operates a travelling petting zoo, bringing biblical animals to schoolchildren in a colorful van and doing her best to overcome knee-jerk reactions of uninformed teachers about such animals as snakes. In a sense, this what Burshtein does to an audience which doesn’t understand the range of personalities within her own religious community. In a wonderful scene, Michal travels to Ukraine to pray at the tomb of Rabbi Nachman, a beloved chasid. As her defenses break down, she confesses out loud to her need for reassurance that God is with her; a voice appears from nowhere asking for her name and she is startled as the viewers. To say much more would be a spoiler but when you see the face of the speaker, your own will break into a smile twice as big as you thought possible.
The parade of suitors arranged by matchmakers provide comic relief as well as a growing desparation that Michal will ever find what she is seeking. But this is a fairy tale for grownups with a glorious soundtrack of both religious and secular songs so you know that evntually, in ways that are difficult (but not impossible) to divine, Michal’s faith in God will be rewarded. See for yourself!!!
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