Film review: 'The Wedding Plan' romantic comedy with an Orthodox twist

For those who remember Rama Burshtein’s first film, Fill the Void, you’ll want to grab your hat and coat (it’s cold in theaters these days — haven’t you noticed?) and head for a screening of her new film, The Wedding Plan.
Again, Burshtein pulls back the curtain on the Orthodox community and a wedding is the main event, but the similarities end there.
Michal, a charming 32-year-old Orthodox woman, is left at the altar (or more literally at the food tasting for the wedding). What’s a girl to do? She already has the dress. She’s paid for the venue. And moves into a new apartment. If you have faith, like Michal, you continue checking off your list leading up to the wedding, but add one item — a groom. Oy!
We join Michal (a terrific Noa Koler) on a bittersweet journey to find her true love. The only hitch is, the wedding is 30 days away, on the eighth day of Hanukkah. The audience joins her on her pilgrimage to matrimony where you’ll meet some real characters along the way. See if you can figure out who becomes Mr. Right.
And hope for a Hanukkah miracle.
Normally, one doesn’t think romantic comedy when you think of the Orthodox community. But Burshtein skillfully merges comedy with the concept of faith.
I was fortunate to speak with the writer and director of The Wedding Plan, Rama Burshtein, last week.
An excerpt from our conversation follows:
Susan Kandell Wilkofsky: I just have to tell you that I am thrilled to speak with you today. Your last film, Fill the Void, was one of those rare films that displayed such a delicate balance between drama and comedy. From the opening scene in the supermarket — I was hooked! And the same with the The Wedding Plan, a charming film that deftly contrasts drama and comedy. I’m not giving anything away when I say, “Wow.”
(Go see the film and you’ll appreciate that word reference.)
Rama Burshtein:    (with a laugh)    Thank you so much, thank you.
SKW: I want to talk a little about the stories that you tell, basically about women who are strong but are also observant. Does this pose a problem when storytelling?
RB: It’s interesting that you say it as if it’s an opposite thing.
As if “you’re observant and strong” doesn’t mix together. But for me, being observant is (a form of) strength and power.
SKW: Am I correct in saying that just like the main character, Michal, you were both raised as secular Jews and not in an ultra-Orthodox home? And by the way, Noa Koler was just terrific! So real! Any other similarities between the main character of The Wedding Plan and you?
RB: First of all, thank you again for all the beautiful things you say! The film is more of my world in terms of becoming religious. I’m 50 years old now and I became religious at the age of 27, so I have lived more years as a secular person than as an observant (one), so, everything I am, basically comes before I became religious. So we (Michal and I) dress a bit different, we’re not so traditional because we have both worlds living inside us. But the story is not autobiographical.
SKW: I enjoyed sneaking a peek behind the curtain. The Orthodox world is not a place that I would often have access, except perhaps in film. I am also the program director of a Jewish film festival in Dallas, and one of my observations is that the Orthodox rarely attend our films, even if it highlights their community.
RB: That’s right. My films are not for the Orthodox community at all. I actually don’t recommend that they go and see them. My films are for secular Jews and even non-Jews — I’m trying to be that little window and the Orthodox world doesn’t really need that window in terms of getting to know their world. So, they won’t go and see films and they won’t sit in a theater where men and women sit together.
SKW: In researching this film, I learned that it was shown in other countries with a translation of its Hebrew title, Through the Wall, but here in the United States it’s known as The Wedding Plan. Why the change?
RB: After hosting some screenings, Roadside Attractions (the distributors) decided that the word “wall” in an Israeli film sounded very political. And this film was not. And for me, it was OK that they made the change; I totally trust them.
SKW: Just as a side note here — there is a pivotal scene that takes place next to a wall (but not The Wall). Having the word “wall” in the title would then lead the audience to believe that the film heads into a very different direction.
RB: (a little laugh). Ah, I can see how you thought that. Interesting!
SKW: I love how you seamlessly integrated the music into the storyline (again, you’ll have to see it to understand my meaning). This is obviously an important element to you.
RB: Yes, actually the musician, Roy Edri, did both the score and the songs. His music goes very fast to the heart! You kind of listen to it and (right from the beginning), you can almost sing with it. I think he’s extremely talented.
SKW: In this country, Jewish singles use JDate to find suitable matches; does the Hasidic community still rely on matchmakers?
RB: Yes, that’s our JDate! (We both laugh.) It’s actually the same! The JDate is the matchmaker. Absolutely the same, except the big difference is, on JDate, it’s not necessarily for marriage — unless they declare they’re looking for something serious — but for us it won’t be anything but marriage. That’s mainly the difference.
SKW: For those who haven’t seen the film yet, there is a character — Shimi’s mother — who performs certain rituals. What was her title? What is she? Is there a name for what she does?
RB: (little snicker) I don’t think there’s a name, but in Judaism, we do believe in the evil eye. Sometimes you feel you kind of need something spiritual that will help you. If you’re stuck, you go to someone. You have it in the Orthodox world. You have it in the secular world. You go to a coach, you go to people who can help you overcome an obstacle. And she’s the type, when it comes to marriage, girls come to her and she brings them to a very genuine, honest place that starts something new.
SKW: Now I learned something new! What is your next project? What are you working on?
RB: It’s in the very, very early stages, but I think the next project involves television: to do a show, to go into the deeper level of a story. To (tell the story) in 10 hours and not two hours.
SKW: So many Israeli TV programs have been adapted for American audiences: Homeland, In Treatment. I am looking forward to that! Thank you for speaking so candidly with me today. Please keep sharing your stories with us.
RB: It was a pleasure!

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