Let’s just say The Wedding Plan, Rama Burshtein’s second feature, is a different kind of Rom-Com.
The film opens with the matronly protagonist Michal being grilled by a shadchanit (matchmaker) about why she wants to get married. Michal smears her face superstitiously with blood from a fish lying haplessly between them.
After a little prying, the matchmaker extracts Michal’s existential angst, and her longing for a husband: someone to love and make a home with. The matchmaker’s son owns a catering hall, and Michal recklessly books a room for her wedding, despite the whole not-yet-having-a-groom thing. Faith in God, she claims, will bring her a husband by the time of her wedding, in a few weeks. This is a hokey and unbelievable act of rashness, but the movie somehow abides enjoyably in spite of a very dumb plot.
It’s unusual to find a mainstream Israeli comedy that has a devoutly religious protagonist, and especially one who is a woman. The way Michal’s emotional life is portrayed – endearingly, believably, warts-and-all – is what made this movie both a pleasure to watch and also groundbreaking.
The Wedding Plan doesn’t glaze over Michal’s religiosity; it is in no way a secular film. In fact, even Michal’s mother seems to be annoyed by her devotion, at one point saying, “If she weren’t so religious, she’d be nearly perfect.” And yet, Michal’s character isn’t boxed in by religious propriety. She has spunk and intimacy and is relatable, even though most viewers, especially in the movie’s American release, can’t empathize with her search for a religious husband.
Burshtein’s comedic decisions are deliberate comments on women in Orthodox Jewish communities in Israel. (Her last film, Fill the Void, was a drama about a Haredi woman who has to decide whether to marry her dead sister’s husband – eek.) Michal’s livelihood is operating a mobile petting zoo; note the change in tone. The traveling zoo has its funny moments, but its purpose is as serious as Fill the Void’s was. In one scene, at a children’s birthday party, the only girl brave enough to pet the snake is chastised for being unladylike. Michal’s profession is amusingly subversive. Thought not explicitly treyf, it’s certainly unbecoming for a woman. I won’t speculate about any phallic imagery or Adam-and-Eve parallels of her snake-handling.