Review: ‘7 Days’ (2021), starring Karan Soni and Geraldine Viswanathan

June 14, 2021

by Carla Hay

Geraldine Viswanathan and Karan Soni in “7 Days” (Photo by Eduardo Fierro)

“7 Days” (2021)

Directed by Roshan Sethi

Culture Representation: Taking place in Thermal, California, the romantic comedy film “7 Days” features a predominantly Indian and Indian American cast of characters (with a few white people who speak off camera) representing the middle-class.

Culture Clash: Two Indian Americans, whose parents are eager for them to find a spouse, meet on a blind date at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, and find out that instead of having many things in common, they are complete opposites.

Culture Audience: “7 Days” will appeal primarily to people who like quirky romantic comedies with an “opposites attract” or COVID-19 pandemic angle, but the movie is often sluggishly paced and relies too much on stereotypes seen in many other romantic comedies.

It’s a little tiresome when American-made movies and TV programs stereotype men of Indian heritage as socially awkward, sometimes emasculated nerds. This over-used ethnic cliché is shoved in viewers’ faces to annoying levels in the romantic comedy “7 Days,” co-starring Karan Soni as a lovelorn Indian American who’s desperately looking for a wife. Geraldine Viswanathan plays his would-be love interest in the movie, but the story is told from the man’s perspective. “7 Days” had its world premiere at the 2021 Tribeca Film Festival.

Directed by Roshan Sethi (who co-wrote the “7 Days” screenplay with Soni), “7 Days” is essentially a dull mumblecore movie with a COVID-19 gimmick. The movie is also Sethi’s feature-film directorial debut. And it just so happens that all of the people who appear on camera in the movie are of Indian heritage. This type of representation is rare for an American-made feature film, but it’s not enough to automatically guarantee that the movie will be great.

Unfortunately, “7 Days” has too many scenes that drag with dialogue that falls flat because of the clumsy comedic timing. Viswanathan seems to be more talented at believable facial expressions than Soni is, but there is no convincing romantic chemistry between these two actors at all. Whatever is going on between the characters that Soni and Viswanathan portray in the movie, viewers will get the impression that this isn’t a romance to root for but it’s going to be strictly a “friend zone” platonic relationship. The filmmakers want to make it look like a romance, but it’s all so phony and passionless.

The beginning of “7 Days” starts off with four real-life, middle-aged, happily married Indian couples talking about how they met, which was usually through arrangements by their families. (Soni’s parents are among the couples.) It’s an adorable introduction, but then the movie gets right to the fictional part of the story and the clichés. The next sequence is straight out of a Bollywood rom-com. Viewers find out that two unmarried young people have mothers who are scheming to find each of them a suitable spouse.

The bachelor and bachelorette are American children of Indian immigrants. The would-be couple are 31-year-old Ravi (played by Soni) and 28-year-old Rita (played by Viswanathan), who both live in California, but not in cities that are near each other. In voiceover narration, Ravi’s mother (played by Gita Reddy) and Rita’s mother (played by Zenobia Shroff) extol the attractive qualities of their respective children, as if they’re creating profiles for them on Indian matchmatching sites. (The mothers in this story do not have names.)

According to Ravi’s mother, Ravi is the youngest and her favorite of her three sons because he’s the most emotionally mature. Ravi works as a researcher at a local university. His mother describes him as kind and responsible. And he loves to cook vegetarian food.

According to Rita’s mother, Rita is a “free-spirit girl with strict moral values” whose hobbies include “caring for her future in-laws.” As for Rita’s food preferences, her mother says that Rita is a pescatarian, but she’s willing to be a vegetarian for the right family. Rita seems to be an only child, since there’s no mention of her having siblings.

In addition to having family members who play matchmaker, Ravi and Rita belong to several Indian-oriented dating sites. Ravi and Rita’s first date (a blind date) takes place in March 2020, during the first week of the COVID-19 pandemic shutdowns in the United States. Ravi has traveled to Thermal, California, where Rita lives. And their first uncomfortable date is a picnic in an empty reservoir. Rita and Ravi are both wearing masks, while Ravi also has on latex gloves.

Ravi is the epitome of an insecure, neurotic dork who has lived a very sheltered life. He says things that he thinks people want to hear so that they will like and accept him. And he often over-apologizes to the point that it gets irritating. In other words, he’s a typical sensitive male protagonist in a mumblecore movie.

Rita is more self-assured than Ravi, but she also has her insecurity issues. One of them is that she lives a double life. She presents herself as a straight-laced person to her parents, who don’t live near her, but she’s very different in real life. Rita is an unemployed slob whose parents are paying for her living expenses.

The conversation during Ravi and Rita’s picnic date doesn’t go very well. Ravi is nervous and sweaty. He tells a dumb joke about how he’s sweating just like he would in India. Rita seems unimpressed by Ravi. He’s also very conscious of following social distancing guidelines of staying at least six feet apart. At one point, he says to Rita with a forced laugh: “You’re so funny. We have great banter. Can you move back a few inches?”

Ravi likes to eat healthy food, and he doesn’t drink alcohol. He’s under the impression that Rita is also a teetotaler. When he brings out some lemonade in aluminum cans, Ravi is mortified to see that it’s hard lemonade.

He thinks he might have offended Rita for bringing alcoholic beverages on this date. He makes a profuse apology by saying that when he got the lemonade from the store, he didn’t look closely at the cans to see what type of lemonade it was. Rita tells him not to worry about it, but Ravi is the type of person who will worry about it.

This picnic date at the reservoir isn’t fun at all, so Rita suggests that they go back to her place. She lives in a middle-class house that looks tidy on the outside, but it’s very cluttered and unkempt on the inside. Rita is the type of person who will leave food wrappers, empty beer bottles and other garbage on tables and on the floor. It’s the first clue that Ravi and viewers have that Rita’s life, just like her house, is messy.

When they arrive at the house, Rita and Ravi both call their respective mothers to give them a summary of how the date is going so far. Even though there are no romantic sparks between Ravi and Rita, they both tell their mothers that this date has potential. Ravi is more invested because he’s traveled a long distance to meet Rita. And he’s the one who wants to get married in the near future.

Ravi doesn’t waste time in telling Rita what his life goals are: He’s soon going to buy a house, he wants to get married that year, and he wants to start a family the following year. He also plans to have three kids. Because Rita and Ravi met as a result of their mothers’ matchmaking efforts, it’s not considered too forward for Ravi to already be talking marriage on the first date. In fact, by traditional Indian custom, it’s not unusual at all.

As can happen in a very unrealistically contrived movie like “7 Days,” Ravi finds out that his rental car won’t be available until the next morning, so he won’t be able to drive back home that night. Rita recommends a hotel nearby where he can stay for the night. Ravi calls the hotel and finds out it will be closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Ravi doesn’t do what most people would do: Make a reservation at another hotel.

In reality (not in this movie), during the pandemic lockdown period, most hotels were still open and desperate for business. Hotels had plenty of vacancies because they experienced an enormous number of reservation cancellations during the lockdown period. But that reality is not in “7 Days,” because the entire movie is based on the contrivance of Ravi staying at Rita’s place so that the story can go exactly where you know it’s going to go.

At first, Ravi says he’s only going to stay until his rental car is ready. But the title of the movie already telegraphs how many days he’s really going to stay at Rita’s place. And in a formulaic rom-com like this one, that means he’s supposed to go through several uncomfortable moments because he and Rita are opposites.

The unrealistic plot developments continue. Ravi finds out that his rental car won’t be ready for three days, which is really the movie’s way of extending the time that Ravi has to stay at Rita’s house. And because there’s a “shelter in place” quarantine mandate in California, Ravi and Rita don’t go outside for most of the movie.

The “uptight nerd having awkward moments with the uninhibited love interest” is an angle that’s been done in many other rom-coms, and it’s played up to repetitive and ultimately tedious levels in “7 Days.” After Rita agrees to let Ravi temporarily stay at her house, he goes in the bathroom and is horrified to see a dildo on the sink. “Oh, this can’t be happening,” Ravi says to himself, as if he’s just seen a real body part.

Soon after Ravi finds out that he’s going to be staying at Rita’s place, he starts to really regret it. It’s because he overhears Rita on the phone, having raunchy sex talk with someone she calls “Daddy.” At first, Ravi thinks that Rita is talking to her father in an incestuous way. Ravi is naturally shocked and disgusted, but he made a wrong assumption.

Rita is actually talking to her older married lover who’s separated from his wife, but this married lover is vague with Rita on when he’s going to divorce is wife. He seems to be leading Rita on with an excuse that things are complicated for him in his marriage. “Daddy” never appears on camera in the movie and his real name is never revealed. He’s voiced by Mark Duplass, one of the executive producers of “7 Days,” who’s an actor/filmmaker with a lot of mumblecore movies in his filmography.

Most of Ravi and Rita’s interactions consist of more painfully unfunny banter. It isn’t long before Ravi finds out that Rita is almost everything that he doesn’t want in a woman: Rita says she never wants to get married. She drinks a lot of alcohol. And she loves junk food. There’s a scene where Rita enthusiastically eats fried chicken, even though her online profile says that she’s a pescatarian.

Ravi’s and Rita’s lifestyle differences also extend to the type of movies that they like to watch. Ravi is a big fan of Bollywood movies, but Rita doesn’t care for this type of entertainment. She’s a lot more into American culture overall than Ravi is. And she seems to be faking to her parents that she’s interested in the Indian tradition of arranged marriages, because she doesn’t want to lose her parents’ financial support.

Issues of gender roles inevitably come up, as they tend to do in rom-coms. Ravi makes an offhand remark that Rita’s voice sounds like the instructional service app Siri. Rita immediately gets defensive and says, “You mean I sound subservient.” Ravi tells Rita that he identifies as a “male feminist.” Still, Ravi is slightly alarmed and surprised that Rita doesn’t like to cook. And he ends up cooking for both of them.

Rita has this to say to Ravi about why she doesn’t see marriage in her future: “It’s just someone else to fight and disappoint and hate. It’s exhausting.” And when fidgety Ravi gets restless in the house, Rita suggests that they just sit around and do nothing. “The less you do, the less you do,” she says.

This type of boring and witless dialogue goes on for much of the movie. Predictably, Rita spikes Ravi’s drink with alcohol to loosen him up. He gets angry that she spiked his drink, but then he gets drunk and does an atrocious standup comedy routine for Rita. While under the influence of alcohol, Ravi opens up about feeling vulnerable and self-conscious that his parents are divorced.

And then, someone in this mismatched duo starts having a persistent cough and develops a fever. And you know what that means in a rom-com with a COVID-19 gimmick. This plot development isn’t handled very well in the movie. “7 Days” essentially dismisses all the deaths and tragedies that people have experienced because of this pandemic and treats this harsh reality as something that would get in the way of a cutesy rom-com plot. If anyone dies of COVID-19 in this movie, it’s a tragedy that this movie brushes off as trivial.

Even in March 2020, during the early part of the pandemic when this movie takes place, people were aware of how quickly large numbers of people were dying from COVID-19. But in this movie, Ravi and Rita are depicted as being in a self-absorbed (and irresponsible) “bubble” where they don’t care to be informed about what’s happening in the news about the pandemic. They’re more concerned about doing things like a virtual exercise workout routine using Rita’s laptop computer.

Viswanathan and Soni are very talented and have had more appealing roles elsewhere. In “7 Days,” they both play characters that just aren’t credible as a romantic couple. Ravi’s neuroses are on full display, but Rita is an underwritten and underdeveloped character. She’s supposed to be the “wacky one” in the relationship, but her personality is ultimately hollow.

Viewers never find out why Rita wants to live an aimless, unemployed life. Her hopes and dreams are never mentioned. How she was raised by her parents, her work history and her social life (other than her affair with “Daddy”) remain a mystery. By the end of the movie, viewers still won’t know much about Rita.

And when you have a romantic comedy where one of the people in the would-be couple remains an enigma, the dialogue is wretchedly monotonous, and there’s no realistic chemistry between the two main actors who are supposed to be this couple, the end result is a disappointing and off-kilter rom-com that isn’t funny or romantic.

Review: ‘Like a Boss,’ starring Tiffany Haddish, Rose Byrne and Salma Hayek

January 10, 2020

by Carla Hay

Tiffany Haddish, Rose Byrne and Salma Hayek in "Like a Boss"
Tiffany Haddish, Rose Byrne and Salma Hayek in “Like a Boss” (Photo by Eli Joshua Ade/Paramount Pictures)

“Like a Boss”

Directed by Miguel Arteta

Culture Representation: Taking place in Atlanta and centered on the beauty industry, the comedy “Like a Boss” has a racially diverse cast that includes representation of white people, African Americans, Latinos and Asians in the middle and upper classes.

Culture Clash: Pandering to the worst stereotypes of women, the plot of “Like a Boss” is basically about a corporate catfight.

Culture Audience: “Like a Boss” will appeal primarily to people who like mindless comedies that sink to low and crude levels.

Tiffany Haddish, Salma Hayek and Rose Byrne in “Like a Boss” (Photo by Eli Joshua Ade/Paramount Pictures)

If you were someone who sat through the excruciatingly dumb trailer of “Like a Boss” as it played during previews of a movie you saw in a theater, you might have seen from the repulsed reactions of people in the audience that this movie was not only a turn-off but it was also going to be a flop. “Like a Boss” tries to pass itself off as a raunchy feminist film, but in the end, the movie (written and directed by men) treats women like trash by presenting them as clueless about business and being at their cruelest to other women. “Like a Boss” director Miguel Arteta and screenwriters Adam Cole-Kelly and Sam Pitman should be embarrassed about putting this crap into the world, because it shows how inept they are at making a female-centric comedy.

The plot centers on entrepreneurs Mel Paige (played by Rose Byrne) and Mia Carter (played by Tiffany Haddish), two best friends since childhood who have an Atlanta store that sells their own brand of beauty products called M&M. Mel handles the financial matters of the business, while Mia handles the creative aspects. On the surface, things seem to be going well, but Mel is hiding a secret that she eventually confesses to Mia: their company is $493,000 in debt. (This isn’t a spoiler, since the confession is in the movie’s trailers. And if you’ve seen the trailers, you’ve basically seen what could be called the best parts of this bad movie.) It doesn’t help the company’s finances that Mia likes to give deep discounts to customers for random reasons.

However, M&M is making enough sales to attract the attention of corporate shark Claire Luna (played by Salma Hayek), the owner of the successful  beauty corporation Ovieda that’s supposed to be a market leader. The writers of this movie clearly don’t know that the biggest U.S.-based beauty companies in America are actually headquartered in New York or Los Angeles, but maybe the filmmakers got financial incentives from Atlanta to have this cheap-looking movie take place there.

Claire swoops in to make an offer to buy 51% of M&M and pay off all the company’s debts. Mel wants to do the deal, but Mia is reluctant because it would break Mel and Mia’s pact to never sell the business. Mia, who is more street-smart than Mel, also senses that Claire can’t be trusted. However, Mel is desperate to erase the company’s debts, and argues with Mia that the sale would be good for the company.

After Claire observes the tension that the proposed deal is causing between the two longtime friends, Claire offers to buy 49% of the company on the condition that if either Mel or Mia leaves the company, Claire will get 51% ownership of the business. Of course, in a movie as stupid and unrealistic as this one, not only do Mel and Mia cave in to Claire’s demands that they make their decision in one day, but they also sign the deal in Claire’s office without any attorneys involved.

As a further insult to women, the screenwriters came up with the catty motivation that Claire targeted Mel and Mia for a takeover because she’s jealous of their close friendship and wants the deal to break up Mel and Mia. It turns out that Claire started Ovieda with her longtime best friend, whom Claire ended up firing because Claire is basically a greedy you-know-what. Claire wants to split up Mel and Mia because Claire failed at working with her best friend, so Claire can’t stand to see two female best friends work well together as business partners. In other words, Claire isn’t thinking like a real business person but is thinking like a petty high schooler. If this corporate raider were a man, there’s no way the filmmakers would come up with this moronic motivation to take over a company.

But the cattiness doesn’t stop there in “Like a Boss.” Mel and Mia have a circle of bourgeois “frenemies”—Kim, Jill and Angela (played by Jessica St. Clair, Natasha Rothwell and Ari Graynor)—mostly married mothers who apparently look down on the unmarried and childless Mel and Mia, who still live like college students. Mel and Mia are roommates who regularly smoke pot and have meaningless flings with boy toys. Meanwhile, Mel and Mia are convinced that their own lifestyles are better than their domesticated friends because Mel and Mia don’t have the responsibilities of husbands and children. Mel and Mia and their “Real Housewives”-type friends spend almost all of their scenes together trying to outdo and impress each other instead of genuinely having fun together as real friends do.

There’s also an unnecessary subplot where Claire pits Mia and Mel against two sexist men named Greg (played by Ryan Hansen) and Ron (played by Jimmy O. Yang), who have their own beauty company that’s competing with M&M for the millions being offered by Claire in the acquisition deal. Greg and Ron are portrayed as dorks who think they’re “woke,” but they’re really dismissive of their customers’ needs. They see beauty products as a way to exploit customers’ insecurities about their looks instead of enhancing natural beauty, and so their company uses a lot of cringeworthy marketing techniques that reflect this condescending attitude.

“Like a Boss” is polluted with some not-very-funny slapstick moments and an annoying fixation on telling jokes about women’s private parts every 10 minutes. There are cheesy Lifetime movies that are better than “Like a Boss,” which certainly isn’t worth spending any money to see. Byrne is capable of doing better work in comedies (as evidenced by “Bridesmaids” and “Neighbors”), but in “Like a Boss,” her Mel character is such a one-dimensional, uptight neurotic that there’s no room for any nuanced complexities.

Haddish continues to put herself in Typecast Hell as the foul-mouthed, quick-tempered, loud caricature that she keeps doing in every movie she’s done since her breakout in 2017’s “Girls Trip,” which is still her best film. Even though her Mia character in “Like a Boss” is college-educated, Mia is an unsophisticated mess. Unfortunately, there are many people in this world who have little or no contact with black women, and they get their ideas and stereotypes of black women from what they see on screen. Fortunately, we have versatile and intelligent actresses like Viola Davis, Regina King and Lupita Nyong’o to offset the damaging, negative stereotypes of black women that Haddish continues to perpetuate in her choice of roles.

“Like a Boss” also has some Hispanic racial stereotyping, since Claire makes Mel and Mia do some salsa-like dance moves with her in the office while Mexican music suddenly plays in the background. (Hayek is Mexican, in case you didn’t know.) There’s also a running gag that Claire can’t speak proper English because she’s constantly mispronouncing and fabricating English words. The not-so-subtle message the filmmakers are conveying is that Latino immigrants who are successful in American business still aren’t smart enough to master the English language. Just because “Like a Boss” director Arteta is also Latino doesn’t excuse this awful stereotyping.

Meanwhile, Hayek and Billy Porter (who plays the sassy Barrett, an openly gay employee of Mel and Mia) have the talent to be doing Oscar-caliber work. Instead, they are slumming it in this garbage movie. Supporting characters that could have been interesting are instead poorly written knock-offs that have been seen countless times before in other movies. Jennifer Coolidge plays the ditzy blonde (Sydney, an employee of Mel and Mia), while Karan Soni plays the villain’s smarmy lackey (Josh, who is Claire’s assistant).

“Like a Boss” is supposed to be a comedy about female empowerment in corporate America, but instead this movie has a very ghetto, misogynistic mindset that belongs in the same trash pile as a bunch of toxic and outdated cosmetics products.

Paramount Pictures released “Like a Boss” in U.S. cinemas on January 10, 2020.