Editor's Note: Lauren Levitt and I met late last year under... extraordinary circumstances. Separately, we chose to attend a queer-leaning, fetish-themed dance party at a strip club in Hollywood. It might have been one of the worst decisions either of us had ever made, except that somewhere between the stale alcohol on the breath of a slurring stripper-waitress and mutually getting ripped off at the door, we found one another and started talking about - what else - movies. Lauren is a PhD candidate in Communication at the University of Southern California.
- Samuel B. Prime, Founder
Disclaimer: the final paragraph of the below review reveals plot details, including the ending.
Months ago, my friend Sam asked me if I wanted to review a movie for LA Ciné Salon. “Absolutely not. I try not to do anymore work than I absolutely have to,” I said. “But I think you’ll find it interesting, and I don’t know anyone else who could write about it as well as you would,” he replied. The film, he explained, was about a 32-year-old Orthodox Jewish woman who, after being dumped by her fiancé, decides that she is going to get married in the span of a month, trusting that God would provide her with a groom. An Orthodox Jewish rom com about societal pressure for women to get married did sound interesting, I admitted, but I still wasn’t planning to write about it.
Fast forward two months, and we are sitting in a preview for The Wedding Plan by American-Israeli director Rama Burshtein. The film opens with a scene of the protagonist, Michal (Noa Kooler), visiting a matchmaker. The matchmaker is preparing a meal, and she makes Michal knead and separate the dough for bread before subjecting her to an interrogation about her reason for seeking her wisdom. The matchmaker is unsatisfied with Michal’s reasons until she breaks down, all of the reasons why she wants to get married gushing out of her as the matchmaker spreads fish guts across her face: she wants to be respected because she is married; she wants a husband to keep religious traditions with; she wants to love and be loved; she wants to be alive. It is like a passage out of a gender studies textbook on the ideology of heterosexual marriage. The matchmaker tells Michal to wipe her face and that her married son, who runs a wedding hall, will cut her a generous deal on the wedding.
In the next scene, we see Michal and her fiancé at a tasting for their wedding menu. The mood is tense, and Michal’s fiancé will not tell her what is wrong. Finally, he admits that he is not in love with her. Determined to get married with or without him, Michal puts a down payment on the wedding venue, buys a wedding dress, and continues to go on a series of increasingly unsuccessful dates against the advice of her dressmaker, family, and rabbi. It is pretty clear to me how this movie will end: Michal will fail to find a husband at the end of the month, but she will realize that she has people who love her and that getting married is far from the most important thing in the world. How could it end any other way in 2017, the same year of Hulu's adaptation of The Handmaid’s Tale, a feminist dystopian novel about the conservative ideology of motherhood as the destiny of all womankind?
About a third of the way through the movie, Michal travels to the Ukraine to visit the tomb of a famous rabbi to pray for a husband, and while there she serendipitously meets a scruffily handsome Israeli pop star named Yoss (Oz Zehavi). (I think we are supposed to know who this guy is, but honestly I have no idea.) After Yoss flirts with her and asks her where she lives so that she “can’t disappear,” Michal tells him about her plan to get married within the month to a mystery groom, freaking him out (as she does nearly every man she meets) by insinuating that they might get married.
Upon returning home from the Ukraine, she discovers that her best friend is getting married to her ex-fiancé. I might have been wrong about this being a rom com, I think. It isn’t very funny, and the tone is frankly somber. Suddenly, Yoss turns up at Michal’s house asking her to marry him. At this point the film is looking like some kind of Mary Sue fangirl fantasy, but Michal refuses because she thinks that he is not serious. However after more disastrous dates and with only a few days before the wedding, in desperation she turns up at one of his shows and sheepishly proposes to him. This time he turns her down.
The day of the wedding comes, and there is still no groom to be found. Finally, the owner of the wedding venue (the matchmaker’s son) proposes to Michal. It turns out that he and his wife have been separated, and she just granted him a divorce the week before! At first Michal says no because she thinks that he is not serious either, but he wins her over by telling her that he fell for her the first time he saw her in his mother’s waiting room and that he had decided to marry her at the end of the month if she didn’t find anyone else. Nevermind that none of this makes any sense. The film ends with him singing to her about how beauty and grace are only superficial.
“That was quite a piece of propaganda,” I say to my companion Sam as we leave the theater.
“That it was,” he replies. I think I might have to write about this one after all.
- Lauren Levitt