From left, Ronny Merhavi, Noa Kooler, and Dafi Alferon in The Wedding Plan (Roadside Attractions)

Hollywood romantic comedies often open with a dramatic last-minute jilting, like Elaine May’s The Heartbreak Kid (1972) and Garry Marshall’s Runaway Bride (1999), or set up an arbitrary deadline or notch to avoid, as in Donald Petrie’s How to Lose a Guy in Ten Days (2003) and Anne Fletcher’s 27 Dresses (2008). The Wedding Plan transcends its similar and gimmicky premise to find a genuinely poignant sweet spot.

Key to the film’s charm and sincerity is how Noa Kooler, in her first lead role as 32-year-old ultra-Orthodox Michal Dreamer, enlivens the second feature by writer/director Rama Burshtein, which is set in a close-knit religious community within Tel Aviv, also the location for Burshtein’s 2012 debut drama Fill the Void. Michal treats being dumped by her long-sought fiancé a month before their wedding as a mission for complete faith. She is determined to keep her hall reservation on the eighth night of Hanukkah, for its symbolism of peace and happiness, and her dress. She tells Shimi (Amos Tamam), the catering hall manager, to just keep the name of the groom on the invitations blank; she’s sure to find her true soul mate.

Her search for the groom isn’t that much different from the many romcoms with a secular single woman signing up for dating websites, but Michal uses the services of matchmakers. She exhausted an earlier one to find her fiancé, so she tries out a new one, followed by the usual comic vignettes.

A quite and unique scene occurs during her pilgrimage, alone, to Ukraine to pray at the tomb of a revered Hasidic rabbi. (The popularity of this holy trip by men was also seen in Daniel Burman’s 2011 documentary 36 Righteous Ones.) How the few women there are shunted into a separate room from the gravesite is slyly used for comic effect here. Amid her fervent prayers for a sign that she is doing the right thing and that her search for a groom isn’t hubris, Michal literally hears a voice answering her plea.

Even more surprising, the voice (and the handsome face) belongs to a famous Israeli heartthrob, Oz Zehavi, here playing Yos, a hippie-ish pop star. Burshtein teases the audience a bit too much about a possible relationship between Yos and Michal. There are a couple of cute false endings, including one back in Israel at one of his concerts (where he’s surrounded by worshipful fans). That would be the outcome in a conventional romcom. But that’s just to distract us from the guy who has really been right in front of Michal all along (and who, conveniently, gets a divorce just in time).

Refreshingly, Michal and the women around her are not stereotypes, and they are strong women. The matchmakers she consults are respected entrepreneurs, juggling family and business from their offices. Michal lives independent of her family and supports herself as an entertainer at children’s birthday parties and schools with a mobile petting zoo (which provides several amusing visuals). Her two roommates are employed and have distinctive personalities for sidekicks. Feiggi (Ronny Merhavi) is chunky with long dreads and funky outfits. Noam (Dafi Alferon) is the funny one, until her disloyalty isn’t so amusing to Michal.

In the epilogue, Michal’s head is covered in a wife’s required turban, and she sits and smiles while her husband and other males enthusiastically sing songs at the seder table. One does wonder though if she, now considerably more subdued than how she sparkled throughout her quest, has truly found marriage to be all that she wanted.

Written and Directed by Rama Burshtein
Released by Roadside Attractions
Hebrew with English subtitles
Israel. 110 min. Rated PG
With Noa Kooler, Amos Tamam, Oz Zehavi, Irit Sheleg, Ronny Merhavi, Dafi Alpern, Oded Leopold, Udi Persi, and Jonathan Rozen