Love in the time of COVID isn’t a particularly novel concept in terms of the pandemic-set films that have been released over the past couple years. Yet, there is a relatability to it, a commonality that we’re all sharing in some shape or another. It’s that level of accessibility alone that makes 7 Days interesting. Even if it seems like the early-pandemic world featured in the film is behind us, Roshan Sethi’s debut feature provides something more to cling to—a genuine exploration of love and loneliness through the lens of a culture frequently depicted through the lens of traditional values and arranged marriages.
As a romantic comedy, 7 Days hardly circumvents a cinematic lexicon of time-honored tropes, but its skill in dismantling stereotypes, sexist beliefs, and even the process of falling in love offers a fresh and charming rejoinder to the cynicism of both its own genre and the emerging repetition of pandemic-set films.
Cowriter Karan Soni (Deadpool) stars alongside frequent collaborator Geraldine Viswanathan (Bad Education) as Ravi and Rita, two contemporary Indian Americans whose traditionalist parents set them up on a date in a last-ditch effort to marry off their respective children. Meeting for a picnic in an empty reservoir, the two of them navigate first-date awkwardness with the kind of good-natured, understated humor that’s become a signature for producers the Duplass brothers. But even though it’s clear that the devout mother’s Ravi is no match for the acerbic Rita, who would clearly prefer to be anywhere else, the polite formality that would have ended their date gets interrupted when the CDC issues a blanket alert for people to shelter in place as COVID-19 reaches its pandemic stage.
When Ravi encounters multiple problems with his exit strategy, he reconnects with Rita, who he unexpectedly discovers is not the pescatarian described in her dating profile but a beer drinker who likes fried chicken. Despite his dismay, he reluctantly accepts her offer of a couch to sleep on, though not before calling his mom (Gita Reddy) to apprise her of the situation. He subsequently finds himself trapped in an increasingly uncomfortable scenario that Sethi cleverly shoots like Ravi is Wendy Torrance experiencing the Overlook Hotel’s gauntlet of horrors in The Shining. He not only hears a sexually explicit phone call Rita engages in with Daddy (Mark Duplass), her previously undisclosed boyfriend, but discovers a sex toy while seeking refuge from her libidinous conversation.
Although it soon becomes evident that a romance between the Ravi and Rita would flagrantly violate their conflicting worldviews, 7 Days eventually settles into the argument that arranged relationships are an old-fashioned, sexist tradition that prioritizes filial surrender over true love. But a dram of whiskey slipped into Ravi’s drink offers a necessary social lubricant that slowly opens up the pair to the prospect of a romance with one another, even as their mutual ambitions and anxieties prove driven by the same fears of inadequacy and loneliness, just manifested in opposite ways.
7 Days isn’t merely a story of two people falling in love by the law of opposites attracting, but of two people realizing their concept of love has to evolve for each to truly see and connect at a deeper level with the each other. Where Ravi’s idea of consummated love is a seven-day affair that ends like a Bollywood film, Rita expects something more visceral: “a kick in the chest,” she tells him. “It’s not something you grow like a plant.”
Although the film never entirely loses sight of its comedic undercurrents, the third act becomes a more serious affair, not unlike The Big Sick in the way its romantic tests always remain framed by the looming threat of death (though here, the prospective ailment is COVID). Even as a climactic injection of melodrama, the stakes are still involving. But more than simply enhancing the tension of their will-they-or-won’t-they romantic fate, this film’s illness, and the circumstances of contracting it, offer an alarmingly prescient testament to the lengths people will go avoid loneliness and seek love.
Anchored by two charismatic and endearing performances by Soni and Viswanathan, Sethi’s film maximizes its mostly single-location setting by focusing on characters whose actions earnestly reflect on the meaning of love instead of the inevitability of falling into it. But like the relationship at its center, 7 Days ultimately succeeds because it understands the traditions it comes from without adhering to them, utilizing the charm and familiarity of romantic comedies in order to serve a more substantial purpose: to get us out of our comfort zones, even when we couldn’t get out of our houses.