Corona, Locked Down, Songbird, Coastal Elites—with a few exceptions, it’s been a bumpy old start for shiny new subgenre “the COVID movie.” A widespread and understandable unease surrounds the very concept. For one thing, it sits at stark odds with the idea of cinematic escapism; who wants to escape into a film about this horrible era that we’re still living through? And with a subject matter so raw, the risk of awkwardness or insensitivity is perilously high. Yet while art continues to reflect life—or at least, try its best to—COVID movies will continue to be made. There’ll even be good ones, from time to time.
It’s March 2020. Ravi (Karan Soni) and Rita (Geraldine Viswanathan) are having a picnic at a decidedly unpicturesque empty reservoir (Ravi: “It just looked so different on Google Images”), on a date arranged by their parents in the hope that it will lead to their marriage. It’s going…fine. They’re both polite, but he is clearly having a better time than she is. It doesn’t seem likely that they’ll meet again.
Except that it’s March 2020. Partway through an awkward silence, both of their phones are attacked by a battalion of text alerts, effectively declaring that the world has been shut down. As he has no way of getting home, and nowhere else to go, Rita reluctantly tells Ravi that he can stay with her.
Although Ravi is 100% into the idea of arranged marriage, Rita is 100% not. Once it becomes clear they’ll be trapped together for days, she soon admits to him that she only goes on dates like theirs so her mom will continue paying her rent; she has no intention of marrying, let alone a man chosen for her by her mother. And she actually does eat meat. She drinks a lot. She has a married boyfriend. Ravi—who is exactly as sheltered and traditional as he appeared on their date—is shocked, and a little bit terrified. But with COVID rampant in the outside world, and a case of childhood asthma exacerbating his already significant fear, he has no way to escape. They’re stuck together.
You know where this is going. While 7 Days—from writer/director Roshan Sethi, co-written with Soni—contends with COVID and the concept of arranged marriage, it still follows the traditional rom-com playbook. Soni and Viswanathan, who’ve co-starred for three seasons in the TBS show Miracle Workers, have an easy chemistry. Though they’re inhabiting well-worn roles (he the neurotic traditionalist, she the modern free-spirit), and their journey from antipathy to affection follows an all-too-familiar path, in their hands, the archetypes don’t seem quite so tired. For Viswanathan in particular—especially after her luminous recent turns in Blockers, Bad Education and The Broken Hearts Gallery—7 Days is yet another confirmation of a formidable charisma.
The film’s handling of COVID becomes increasingly awkward and contrived as the narrative progresses, but it does well at portraying the uneasy mix of fear and boredom that pervaded the early days of the pandemic. The uncanny unreality of that period makes a fitting setting for Ravi and Rita’s unconventional courtship. However divergent their personalities may be, they find comfort in each other’s presence—although that comfort is often served with a side dish of irritation. The movie is at its best during the first half, where Ravi and Rita are just lounging around the house, simultaneously annoying each other and stealthily falling in love. He teaches her how to cook, she gets him drunk for the first time and they do YouTube workout videos together. It’s a lot of fun hanging out with the two of them.
When disaster strikes, roughly at the midpoint, 7 Days loses some of its effortless sparkle. Until then, it all feels so natural and laidback; the sudden shift towards high stakes drama is not a smooth one, and a certain tonal messiness plagues the rest of the movie. The truncated timeframe is a problem too: There’s no possible way, in any of the furthest stretches of the imagination, that everything we see could take place within one week. It’s here that the film falls victim to its COVID theme. We’ve lived with this for almost two years now. We’ve long been marinating in information about incubation periods and recovery times. The impossible speed in which the depicted events are supposed to happen makes for an unnecessary distraction during what should be 7 Days’ big romantic crescendo.
But we return then to the effervescence of Soni and Viswanathan. While 7 Days contains issues that could have been insurmountable, the appeal of the two stars, both individually and as a unit, powers it through most of the weaker moments. Perhaps more than any other, romantic comedy is a genre that demands an inherent suspension of disbelief, and it’s not too taxing a task to let some tonal and logical inconsistencies slide when the central couple are as charming as this one. As far as COVID movies go, 7 Days is certainly in the top tier of that still nascent subgenre—whether that’ll be true this time next year, we’ll have to wait and see.
Director: Roshan Sethi
Writers: Roshan Sethi, Karan Soni
Stars: Karan Soni, Geraldine Viswanathan
Release Date: October 14, 2021 (London Film Festival)
Chloe Walker is a writer based in the UK. You can read her work at Culturefly, the BFI, Podcast Review, and Paste.