We’ve yet to hit the full deluge of COVID-related movies and media. Sure, there have been some pieces of media that reference it, use it as a storyline, or have it related in some other way, but writer-director Roshan Sethi’s 7 Days is one of the first full-on COVID-based films starring recognizable faces. Starring Karan Soni and Geraldine Viswanathan, and produced by Jay and Mark Duplass, 7 Days tells the story of Ravi (Soni) and Rita (Viswanathan), two people who meet on an arranged date just at the start of shelter in place orders in the U.S. Ravi is fully on board with arranged marriages, while Rita only goes on these dates so that her mother will continue to pay for the house she lives in. Of course, thanks to the pandemic and these two being in close contact, they’re forced to shelter in place together for seven days.
As a rom-com, this checks all the right boxes and hits all the right notes. It has two charismatic leads with good chemistry (they’ve starred together on three seasons of the underrated Miracle Workers), a clever enough premise to bring out the quirks of these two characters, and jokes that, for the majority of the time, are good for a gentle chuckle at the very least. For fans of the genre, this will scratch that itch. The characters cook, lie to each other, tell life stories, fight, and let the idiosyncrasies — including performing bad standup comedy and being in an unfaithful relationship with a married person — come to the forefront. All hallmarks of this genre. That Sethi was able to pull all of this off well creates a solid floor for what this movie can be.
But even past that, the film is at its strongest when it is tackling the Indian ideal of arranged marriage. With each of these characters’ feelings towards the practice, they’re put in a good spot for the movie to be able to explore the idea. Sethi and Soni, who co-wrote the film, spoke in an interview about how they wanted to bring this idea to western, American audiences, and not use the film as a vehicle to break down the practice. Instead, they invite discussion about its legitimacy, and even end up with a fairly hearty endorsement of it by the end. Bookending the film with interviews with real-life couples whose marriages were arranged brings a good deal of legitimacy and empathy to the idea, and it’s refreshing to see a movie like this. As Roger Ebert famously championed, film is the perfect medium to cultivate empathy, and 7 Days certainly does that for a concept that is foreign, in more ways than one, to many of the people who’ll be watching it.
What doesn’t work as well is the COVID of it all. Having these two stuck together be due to COVID obviously puts it at a very specific time and place in the real world, which is fine. But in doing so, the film opens itself up to questions of, why? While the first two acts really only use the pandemic as a means to get the characters stuck together, the final act leans into it hard, but its tonal shift ultimately seems to culminate with a fairly simplistic “take the pandemic seriously” message. For a movie which initially released at the 2021 Tribeca Film Festival in June of 2021, and then had a limited U.S. run in March of 2022, its pandemic-related messaging adds next to nothing to the discourse. It features the pandemic, but is noncommittal in terms of its seriousness… until it becomes uber serious. The shift is sudden, jarring, and just doesn’t particularly work.
Unfortunately for 7 Days, its main conceit is what eventually brought it down. It’s still a worthwhile movie thanks to its charm, chamber piece setting, and fresh and important messaging around arranged marriages — it just gets lost in the weeds when it would have benefitted from staying the course.