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You don’t need faith to enjoy ‘The Wedding Plan’

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Noa Koler stars in writer-director Rama Burshtein’s “The Wedding Plan.” (Courtesy Roadside Attractions)
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“The Wedding Plan,” an Israeli comedy, contains an Orthodox Jewish protagonist and sensibility, but you don’t need to be an Orthodox Jew, or religious at all, to enjoy writer-director Rama Burshtein’s emotionally genuine, serio-kooky tale about a woman’s extreme strategy for finding Mr. Right.

Like Burshtein’s “Filling the Void,” this more humorous story reflects the filmmaker’s belief in the power of faith and the institution of marriage, and features a devout woman faced with choosing a husband. It’s an old-fashioned romantic comedy that adheres to that recipe while benefiting from novelty appeal, a compelling lead performance, and a cute, winningly presented premise.

Michal (Noa Koler) is a 32-year-old ultra-Orthodox woman who, like many romcom heroines, is deserving, desirable, slightly offbeat — she runs a petting zoo — and unsuccessful in love. Having been seeking a husband for a decade in a culture where women are expected to marry before exiting their 20s, Michal finally has a fiancé, Gidi (Erez Drigues).

A month before the wedding, however, Gidi dumps Michal, who, determined to become a married woman, instructs the befuddled wedding-hall owner (Amos Tamam) to go ahead with the ceremony. If she has faith, God will take care of the missing-groom problem, Michal believes. Her mother (Irit Sheleg), sister (Dafi Alpern), and best friend (Ronny Merhavi) worry.

Michal’s mission includes a string of quirky blind dates. No groom emerges. On a religious pilgrimage in Ukraine, she meets a pop star (Oz Zehavi). Compatibility problems occur.

With the clock ticking, will a groom materialize?

The movie has its frustrations. Limited by the romcom formula, the story is largely predictable. Burshtein, who herself holds Orthodox beliefs, doesn’t seem troubled by the social expectations that make Michal feel that she needs a husband and children to be happy and whole.

Yet Burshtein has infused a down-to-earth tone with some “nutty energy” (a quality a scared-off suitor attributes to Michal) and produced an amiably loopy slice of Orthodox Jewish life and love, complete with matchmakers and Hasidic sidelocks.

The movie is also a faith fable, whose ambiguous or perhaps fantastical final moments won’t turn skeptics into believers but will prompt a good feeling regardless.

Burshtein’s smart screenplay doesn’t let the plot’s loony aspects upstage the emotional elements, and thanks largely to Koler’s dramatic skills, the results are rewarding.

As portrayed by Koler, who received an Israeli Oscar for her performance, Michal is an emotionally open presence, both embraceable and challenging. Her surface confidence cannot mask her insecurities, which sometimes sabotage her chances for happiness. With her headstrong nature and high standards, she suggests an ultra-Orthodox Elizabeth Bennet. But she’s foremost her own distinctive brand of character, and we’re glad to have made her acquaintance.

REVIEW

The Wedding Plan

Three stars

Starring: Noa Koler, Dafi Alferon, Oded Leopold
Written and directed by: Rama Burshtein
Rated: PG
Running time: 1 hour, 50 minutes

Editor’s note: This article’s headline has been updated for accuracy.

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