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The Wedding Plan Review: The little Hebrew-language Rom-Com that could

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You may not imagine that you’d be hankering to see a romantic comedy in Hebrew this weekend.  I’m here to tell you, this new indie, directed by Israeli-American director Rama Burshtein, and starring luminous stage actress Noa Koler as well as Israeli heartthrobs Amos Tamam and Oz Zehavi, will win you completely, and put a smile on your face that will stay stuck that way for hours.

32 year old Michal (Noa Koler) is an Orthodox Jewish woman who wants to find someone to share her life with, and wants the comfort and acceptance that comes with married life.  That’s not to say she isn’t entirely her own woman that dances to the beat of her own drum.  She has created a career of running a mobile petting zoo, which includes a snake and other creatures that would send most other supposedly feminine women screaming.  She has strong opinions and readily shows the depth of her feelings. When her fiancé, the man she thought would be her life partner, unexpectedly calls off the engagement only a month before the wedding, she is crushed.  Being of strong stock, she picks herself up and determines she’ll find Mr. Right in time to go ahead with the nuptials. She trusts god to find her the perfect match, with barely a month to spare.

This movie is a great example of what the future of Rom-Coms can deliver, embracing all the genre’s positivity and romance, but adding the twists, darkness, and raw emotion that gives it both staying power and immediate relevance.  Director Burshtein knows how to write the sort of determination-led magical thinking with which character Michal has approached her life and her future, which is no easy task.  It could have easily seemed hokey or entirely unbelievable, but because this is about her trust in god, it becomes like a fairy tale, the ending for which the entire audience is kept captive and hoping.

For her part, Koler is not only perfectly cast, but entirely believable, which is essential to the film working.  International audiences agree with me, since she won Best Actress at the Awards of the Israeli Film Academy, the Israeli version of the Oscars.  Watch her as she goes on blind date after blind date, awkward yet steadfast in her belief she is doing the right thing, all the while feeling a little insane. It will induce chair-squirming empathy, and no doubt some recognition of past experiences.  Her chemistry with Zehavi, who plays Yos, a famous pop star who takes a shine to her, and Tamam, as Shimi, the handsome owner of the wedding venue, is off the charts.  The way these actors bring their characters to life makes even the surprise ending make sense.

One of the most interesting aspects of seeing The Wedding Plan is the way it represents the culture of Orthodox Judaism so that those who know little about it are enlightened. I knew very little, but loved learning from the portrayals how powerful and independent women can be, even though the pressure to get married is so strong. There are also concrete bits of culture represented like, excuse my ignorance, that Orthodox Jewish women who are married must cover their hair.  (see married Rama Burshtein’s IMDB for lovely pictures of her in head wraps)  Burshtein, herself someone who became Orthodox after being raised in a secular family, has as a writer/director dedicated herself to promoting film as a tool of self-expression in the Orthodox community. She did so with her first narrative feature in 2012, Fill the Void, which won a total of seven awards from the Israeli Film Academy.

The Wedding Plan is in a larger number of arthouse theaters than is usually the case for foreign language films released in the US, but that doesn’t mean you should tarry in finding a screening near you.  Independent films survive and thrive on early word of mouth and ticket sales.  For the sake of all of us who like romantic, positive examples of cinema, go see it opening weekend.

A-

In area theaters now.