Using the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic as a backdrop for a quarantine-style romantic comedy, Roshan Sethi’s directorial debut, “7 Days,” which pushes two ideologically opposed young Indian-American characters together during shelter-in-place, is a compact, empathetic wonder that only occasionally dips into overtly broad comedy. Co-written by Sethi, a co-creator of the popular Fox show “The Resident,” and star Karan Soni (“Miracle Workers” and “Deadpool”), “7 Days” also features “Blockers” breakout — and Soni’s “Miracle Workers” co-star — Geraldine Viswanathan. Produced by The Duplass Brothers, Sethi’s film reconditions their now typical single-location productions — “Room 104,” “Blue Jay,” “The One I Love,” etc. — to create an affectionate, if sometimes slight, portrait of courtship.
Beginning in March 2020, Soni’s Ravi and Viswanathan’s Rita are on an initial blind date, set up by their respective mothers from an online Indian dating app. Ravi bumbles through introductions, foregrounding his belief in arranged marriage and his strict insistence on traditional matchmaking methods, putting him at odds with Rita, who seems disinterested in him but nevertheless claims that she wants marriage. As the date continues to degrade, the world locks down. Ravi is forced to quarantine with Rita, slowly realizing that her interest in him and possible marriage is only a put-on so that her mother will continue to pay her bills. Instead, she eats meat, drinks beer, and is having an affair with a married man. Progressive in her views, but still a personal mess, Rita pushes against Ravi’s strict beliefs. With the shelter-in-place continuing, the two slowly form a bond, as Ravi is forced to question the effectiveness of arranged marriages, and Rita contends with the possibility that her lifestyle may be unsustainable.
While “7 Days” breaks little ground in the opposites attract while forced to spend time together sub-genre—the forgotten, for a good reason, “Two Night Stand” comes to mind—Sethi and Soni’s script, some of which was improvised, allow Ravi and Rita to escape their initial characterizations, revealing two complicated people who are attempting to navigate between cultural and personal desires. Ravi’s initial insistence on following the rituals of courtship is tested by Rita’s liberalism, but as he slowly begins to experience aspects of life that he traditionally shunned — alcohol, stand-up comedy, Hollywood movies —he reveals his complicated desires, holding onto the idea of an arranged marriage as a crutch to avoid living his life fully. Similarly, Rita’s refusal to embrace her Indian heritage is questioned by Ravi, as she initially swings so far in the other direction. Both gifted comedians, Soni and Viswanathan shade in, and juxtapose their characters, muddling what initially seems to be a traditional rom-com set-up. Further, Sethi avoids framing these characters as arguments for or against arranged marriages, instead foregrounding nuance that argues simultaneously for and against this system.
While Sethi and co. may not upend the rom-com formula, “7 Days” works because of Soni and Viswanathan’s lived-in performances, creating characters that you care for and not overstaying its welcome (the film runs under 90 minutes). Further, while COVID lingers within the background for much of the film, providing a deus ex machina to keep the two characters confined and probing each other, the final third of the film brings the pandemic to the forefront, abruptly shifting away from the protracted meet-cute that came before it, as Ravi and Rita are forced to contend with how the pandemic interrupted all aspects of our lives. This shift might seem trite with less realized characters, as the merging of pandemic narrative and romantic comedy seems, at least initially, as incompatible genres. Instead, though, Ravi and Rita reenact the confusion and fear that the early pandemic thrust on so many people, where a cough might or might not be a sign of something much worse.
While “7 Days” occasionally goes too broad in juxtaposing Ravi and Rita, sometimes pitting them as ideological binaries instead of fully realized characters capable of vacillating in ideas, the film more often than not allows them to develop and shift as they get to know each other. Unlike other recent works that directly contend with COVID-19, “7 Days” leads with empathy, crafting a sweet and sincere, if occasionally slim, romance in the process. [B]