‘The Wedding Plan’ executes very well
Directed and written by: Rama Burshtein
Starring: Noa Kooler, Irit Sheleg and Oz Zehavi
“The Wedding Plan” – “If I get married, I want to be very married.” – Audrey Hepburn
Director/writer Rama Burshtein perfectly named her new film, because in “The Wedding Plan”, Michal’s (Noa Kooler) wedding is the movie’s signature event, and this character – in her 30s - has hoped for marriage her entire adult life.
It’s her goal.
It’s hard work, and she yearns that her search for Mr. Right will quickly end, like a “karate chop” smashing into a board.
Most of all, her search is emotionally difficult, however new challenges have just begun.
You see, Michal finds herself engaged to Gidi, but the unthinkable occurs. With the wedding a month away, Gidi reluctantly admits that he is not in love with her and backs out. With a wedding planned but no groom, Michal pushes forward and trusts that God will provide a husband in time.
Burshtein’s film is about marriage, not the complications of the institution, but the pursuit of it. Through Michal, Burshtein explores the honest reasons – which I will not reveal in this review - that we search for a life partner, and her lead character leaves herself open to slights about her pursuit, that admittedly does feel desperate. In fact, Michal freely admits despair.
At the same time, Michal’s feelings are justified. They are legitimate. Burshtein turns the camera on Kooler’s Michal, and this director and actress do not generate pity for her, but strength. Strength through Michal’s convictions. Burshtein deeply dives into her script, and Kooler successfully carries Michal through the fire of societal traditions that have burned her over a lifetime…and the film’s month-timeline.
She feels like an outcast, and throughout the picture, she absorbs repeated verbal jabs which reinforce that feeling. More than a few call her crazy, because she is holding a wedding and hoping that a groom will magically appear, but one particular scene cuts much deeper.
Michal owns a petting zoo and brings a snake for a small group of girls. The kids are initially hesitant, but the teacher or aide instructs Michal to put the reptile away and later asks, what kind of woman would handle a snake? This short but telling conversation highlights a symbolic gesture towards Michal. She’s perceived as a woman who is less than.
Yes, Michal is strong but also damaged by the occasional scrapes from blazing her own trail.
Kooler blazes her own trail too. Working mostly in television, this is her first lead in a feature film, and the camera loves her. Burshtein liberally frames Kooler with close-ups and places most of the scenes in close quarters. Kooler utilizes her acting gifts to convey restraint under turbulent circumstances, as we see every subtle change in sentiment while other entrenched emotions bubble to the surface. She is wholly convincing as Michal, a woman under duress, and the picture ends and begins with her engaging performance.
“The Wedding Plan” includes several supporting characters too – like Michal’s mom, sister and a small group of friends – but the film never really develops them, and they feel like random faces in a crowd. This is Michal’s story, so it is not necessarily an issue, but I wished for more crowds. Specifically, the film’s style is very conversational, and many scenes occur with two (or a few) characters in living rooms or an occasional dining room. Michal mentions that she lives in Jerusalem, so I was hoping to see some daytime shots, outside among crowded streets with Israeli scenery as a backdrop. We do get one small moment on the beach at the Mediterranean Sea in the evening, but of course, for those who know Israel, Jerusalem is about an hour to the coast.
Burshtein’s film, however, does not coast. It works hard delving into this self-inflicted predicament of a most determined woman. Michal meets a highly diverse group of men along the way, and one might become her groom, or perhaps not. While watching this picture, my hope was to see Michal grow along the way, groom or not.
Jeff – a member of the Phoenix Critics Circle – has penned film reviews since 2008 and graduated from ASU’s Walter Cronkite School of Journalism. Follow Jeff and the Phoenix Film Festival on Twitter @MitchFilmCritic and @PhoenixFilmFest, respectively.