7 Days, 2021.
Co-written and directed by Roshan Sethi.
Starring Karan Soni, Geraldine Viswanathan, and Mark Duplass.
As if their pre-arranged date, organized by their traditional Indian parents, wasn’t uncomfortable enough, Ravi and Rita are forced to shelter in place together as COVID-19’s reach intensifies.
18+ months into the pandemic, audiences can’t really be blamed for being thoroughly fed up of “COVID cinema,” whether documentaries about the subject, genuinely troubling thriller cash-ins (like the Michael Bay-produced Songbird) or meet-cute rom-coms unfolding under the pandemic’s shadow.
7 Days, the directorial debut of Roshan Sethi, certainly isn’t the first case of the latter, following Locked Down and SXSW indie The End of Us, but arriving many, many months after either, exemplifies the key issues with creating a movie about a major global event during said event.
The Duplass brothers-produced romantic dramedy was shot over eight days last summer, yet despite its low-fi concept didn’t premiere until just this past June at the Tribeca Film Festival. By this point, many of its empathy touchstones had already been thoroughly cycled through in other pandemic-adjacent films and especially TV shows, and so, today, can’t help but feel a bit like wearisome cinematic backwash.
A harsh declaration, perhaps, because it’s clear that 7 Days was made with earnest intent and is the creation of talented people, yet what truly hobbles this maybe-romance of intriguing cultural specificity is an execution that, even without the spectre of COVID, is offputtingly sitcom-y.
At the behest of their pushy parents, Indian-Americans Rita (Geraldine Viswanathan) and Ravi (Karan Soni) meet for a date to determine their possible compatibility for an arranged marriage. Things quickly don’t work out – Ravi’s a painfully neurotic stickler, Rita is scarcely concealing her “non-traditional” values of profuse drinking and sex – but due to a few logistical hiccups and a necessity to quarantine once Rita develops a nasty cough, the pair find themselves shacking up together at her apartment for a week.
From the film’s opening sequence, a montage of Zoom conversations with couples whose arranged marriages succeeded, it’s clear that Sethi and Sani – who co-wrote the film – wish to probe the suitability of the tradition across a cultural chasm. Using the enforced closeness of a pandemic as a thematic parallel isn’t an inherently bad idea, but the baggage of its timely setting is compounded by a sure conceptual convolutedness.
Of course, Ravi can’t find a cab to get home, and of course, the local hotel has been closed due to the pandemic, so the only solution is for the two of them to stay together for a night. A night which becomes three due to rental car shortages, followed by further flimsy excuses to prevent him leaving. Even when he does head for the door, an errant cough from Rita stops him dead in his tracks.
There’s little that can’t be predicted by all but the most rom-com-deprived of audiences. As the pair awkwardly reside together, a warmth slowly grows; as Ravi has Zoom meetings with other potential brides, Rita finds herself growing disgruntled, and when Rita’s cough threatens to give way to major complications, Ravi’s fear for someone he’s known for mere days is immense.
The hit-and-miss script has a loose, improv-like feel to its dialogue, and the laughs come only fitfully even in the vital getting-to-know-you stages of the odd couple pairing. The broad critique of arranged marriages as programmatic and performative is funny and intriguing to a point, but bogged down by the persistent implausibility – physically and emotionally – of the scenario.
One can sense the pressure to be a Comedy falling off in the more sober second half, where it settles down to consider the very serious physical consequences of the pandemic. But audiences couldn’t really be blamed for feeling jarringly pinballed between a film that at once wants to be an adorable, seat-of-your-pants romance and also engage with the dangers of catching COVID.
Sethi absolutely can’t be accused of treating the pandemic flippantly, to the extent that the third act rouses some genuine suspense as to the direction it might all take; comparisons to The Big Sick are inevitable for several reasons. Yet it’s disappointing that this is all in the service of a romantic throughline that, ultimately, circles back to sappy rom-com cliches, culminating in an over-egged, unearned ending.
What prevents 7 Days from totally sinking, however, is the undeniable quality of the two central performances. Karan Soni is perfectly cast as the bookish, repressed Ravi, skating on the fringes of obnoxiousness, perhaps in a calculated attempt to offset his bland potential. Geraldine Viswanathan gets the beefier of the two parts, though, effectively playing a double-act as a free-spirited woman masquerading as an “old-fashioned” Indian woman.
Their amusing non-chemistry is itself chemistry, and to a point it’s entertaining to watch them simply chew over their differing perspectives on love, tear apart each other’s flaws – his entrenched sexism, her self-destructive tendencies – while bonding over shared slivers of life experience.
Even with the actors’ efforts, though, I struggled to root for Rita and Ravi, in part because I couldn’t buy the conceit that they could shed their hang-ups within a mere week to the extent of falling for one another. Then there’s the fact that some of their less-appealing actions, such as Rita spiking teetotaler Ravi’s drink with alcohol, are ill-advisedly played for harmless laughs.
That’s not the only eyebrow-raising character decision made in the movie, and while depicting people in their matter-of-fact flaws can be enriching, it may not endear audiences to cheer for their romantic success.
This isn’t an aggressively harmful or aggravating work by any means, though, and at just 85 minutes in length is hardly a chore to sit through. It has fitful laughs and benefits enormously from its talented leads, but fails to fully persuade as both a snapshot of the pandemic era and an against-the-odds rom-com.
It’s tough to fault the performances, but 7 Days ultimately leans back on sitcom-y contrivances and unearned sentimentality while struggling to grapple with some unwieldy tonal shifts.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★
Shaun Munro – Follow me on Twitter for more film rambling.