There’s a lot to unpack in director Rama Burshtein’s The Wedding Plan — so much, in fact, that the film is like a Blue Apron box full of instructions, ingredients, and aesthetically pleasing verbiage. Here’s a dish that sounds fun without being particularly challenging. There are a place for films like these, I’m sure, and in the late eighties and early nineties directors such as Rob Reiner and Nora Ephron were making them with precision and ease. These storytellers created caramelized yarns about love. Desserts plated so effortlessly that the audience, adjusting their napkins, didn’t care about the excessive calorie count in their confectionery delights.
Of course with the excellence in these particular comedic romances, there was bound to be derivative knockoffs. A slew of under-baked souffles came rolling out on squeaky wheels in the aughts. The decade of whipped cream and cheap fondant introduced us to the dreaded wedding genre. The Wedding Planner, Wedding Crashers, My Big Fat Greek Wedding, Bride Wars, 27 Dresses, The Wedding Date, American Wedding, License to Wed, Made of Honor, and many others. After the 2000s hiccuped to an auspicious close, the vanilla cake airiness and comedic vows of wedding films rattled off into the distance. We all waved goodbye to them, not a minute too soon. As you know, they reappeared, shortly thereafter, to tepid responses from audiences and critics alike.
Cut to 2016, and the Israeli film Through the Wall is released to praise at the Haifa International Film Festival. The title, nondescript and perhaps mildly uninteresting, is re-purposed for American distribution as The Wedding Plan. A moniker perhaps less banal, but significantly more triggering. A name that breaststrokes straight into the bad memories of Jennifer Lopez and Nia Vardalos movies of yesteryear. A place where once repressed 2005 romantic comedy montages reappear, no longer bridled or compartmentalized. Certainly, Rama Burshtein’s film doesn’t fall into egregious wedding tropes the way supercilious American films once did. The Wedding Plan, instead, is about a woman who is deeply entrenched in her faith. So much so that she dutifully — and, some would say, impractically — relies on God to provide her a husband within a narrow three-week window. Sure.
Michal (Noa Kooler) is our protagonist in question. 32-years-old, confounded about her future, and operating a traveling petting zoo of sorts, she is looking for purpose. In an attempt to find a suitable husband who is both loving and faithful, Michal winds up on a carousel of dates. As you would expect, most end in a wreathe of fire or an awkward nosedive. Kooler is a wonderful actor, and adds nuance to a script that has none. She reflects, thoughtfully. Cries, worriedly. And engages, passionately, with the source material. In a movie that celebrates companionship and demonizes independence, she is the only component that works. Throughout Burshtein’s picture, there is a painful sense of panic: If nobody loves me, what purpose do I have? The Wedding Plan rather firmly asserts that you must find personal worth through someone else’s validation. Any movie that thinks self-love, respect, and happiness is impossible through healthy autonomy is representing damaging philosophies. Personal care and happiness is intrinsic to finding true love, not only with yourself but with future relationships. Here, the narrative speaks boldly: Without someone giving you adoration, you are without reason. This is sort of regressive belief system plagues the movie’s rather frustrating 110 minute run-time.
Burshstein’s film paddles, desperately, for moments of emotional sincerity. It believes itself to be moving, full of levity, and warmly embedded in religion. But the cheap coziness and cloying sentiment doesn’t mask the antiquated societal beliefs that this movie glowingly endorses. Generic, pulse-free structure aside, there are larger propaganda-based problems that this film sells.
Comedy can live without lifeless cliches. And emotional care can exist without co-dependence. The Wedding Plan is a strikingly disastrous combination of feckless boredom and anti-autonomy agendas.
You can do without.