During the decade I spent dating and waiting to meet my husband, my mom and I used to joke that perhaps I should just pick a wedding date, with confidence that Mr. Right would materialize. I never verbalized our inside joke to anyone else, because it was a crazy idea, and not something I would actually do.
In the film “The Wedding Plan,” Israeli writer and director Rama Burshtein imagines the spiritual journey of a woman who takes the leap of scheduling a wedding without a groom.
At the beginning of the “The Wedding Plan,” Michal (Noa Kohler) pays a spiritual advisor to find and resolve whatever is blocking her from finding her bashert. The woman has Michal perform the mitzvah of hafrashas challah (separating a piece of dough to be burned) before sitting across from her and, while smearing Michal’s face with the guts of a raw fish, forces her to be brutally honest about what she really wants.
What she wants is not a fairy tale romance, but a life partner. She is searching for a husband with whom to build a home and host Shabbos meals, instead of being a perpetual guest. After the consultation ends, the film abruptly cuts to a wedding hall, presumably a few weeks or months later, where Michal and her fiancé Gidi are supposed to be tasting dishes for their wedding menu. Instead, they are sitting awkwardly next to each other, straining to make conversation until Gidi finally admits to Michal that he doesn’t love her.
It takes Michal some time to recover from this shock, but when she does, she realizes that she has purchased a dress, reserved a wedding hall and rented an apartment. The only thing she needs is a groom, and G-d has 22 days to produce one for her. How hard could that be?
I must admit that I had hoped the film’s journey from this decision until the chuppah would be more comedic than it turned out to be, but upon further reflection, I was glad that Burshtein raises serious questions about the faith struggle that is inherent in the search for a mate. While Michal prays and puts her faith in the Almighty, she also continues to date, recognizing that she will have to do her part to achieve her goal. Throughout the film her faith vacillates, but she never backs down from the wedding plan, even as the pressure and doubts increase.
Burshtein does not glamorize or make light of Michal’s decisions. At the film’s climax, when Michal is dressed in a poufy wedding dress, seated in the bedeken chair, just before we learn whether and whom Michal will marry, her distress and confusion are palpable, serving as a cautionary tale not to try this at home. But Michal has done it for us – tested the very limits of her faith and the fidelity of her friends and family, who have all shown up to the wedding that seems unlikely to happen.
Despite some laugh out loud moments at the absurdity of the situation, this movie is serious about its underlying subject: a religious woman’s desire to get married. I was delighted that the movie never trivializes the topic, or suggests that Michal should just be happy with her single life.
In the secular world, it is unfashionable to verbalize one’s desire to get married, unless one already has a long-time partner, because doing so smacks of desperation or flightiness. On the other hand, within the Orthodox community, there are those who view “older singles” as being too picky, or being flawed in some way – not attractive enough, too argumentative, too boring, too flashy, you name it. For many people, it is difficult to reconcile their faith in a merciful G-d with the reality that some wonderful people struggle to find their match, and that others never do.
The character of Michal is attractive, confident, quirky, and conflicted. Her life is put together in many ways, but she has flaws, just like anyone else. Despite her imperfections, there is never any question that she is worthy of being loved and finding her match.
One of my favorite moments in the film is when Michal, who owns a petting zoo, presents her animal show at a girl’s birthday party. The pre-teen girls are all dressed in pinks and pastels, and she asks if any of them want to pet the snake. Most of the girls recoil at the idea, but one shows an interest and willingness to do so, until she is dissuaded by an adult. Michal unsuccessfully intercedes, and the audience feels her disappointment at seeing the girl constrained by social expectations. The girl is a mirror of Michal: comfortable with who she is and willing to be different from the norm, and like Michal, we want her to stay true to herself.
Michal’s character traits – her honesty, audacity, and determination – unsettle some characters in the film and fascinate others. To some, her wedding plan is an affront to G-d, but others see it as a demonstration of great faith.
While Michal’s wedding plan is larger than life, and implausible in reality, the underlying emotions are very realistically portrayed. Anyone who has been single for a long time struggles to maintain optimism and faith and wonders if there is a point at which they should stop searching, especially when suggested matches seem off the mark.
Michal says early in the movie that she is not sure she can endure any more dates. Except for those lucky enough to marry happily when they are very young, the dating process is fraught with expectation, disappointment, rejection and constant questioning of past and future decisions. It is a cycle with an endless loop of highs and lows. Michal is ready for the uncertainty to be over, but instead of giving up, she invests all of herself into getting what she wants. In the process, she gives voice to other single men and women in the same situation.