7 Days is Hell is a wonderfully absurd and surprisingly raunchy made-for-TV short film currently playing on HBO. Starring Andy Samberg and Kit Harington as a pair of polar opposite tennis players, the movie is a mockumentary that skewers so many things — tennis, sports documentaries, Sweden, sports moms, British talkshows, the Queen of England, and more. Although 7 Days in Hell parodies a wide variety of topics, director Jake Szymanski does an admirable job of keeping the movie focused. If you’re a fan of tennis or sports documentaries (think HBO Sports numerous documentaries and ESPN’s 30 for 30 series) and don’t mind smutty humor then you should definitely give 7 Days in Hell a shot.
Andy Samberg does most of the heavy lifting in 7 Days in Hell as Aaron Williams. The adopted brother of tennis legends Serena and Venus Williams, Aaron is a physical pastiche of Andre Agassi, but with the personality of John McEnroe…with the lewdness cranked up to 11. Samberg does a fantastic job of playing a character that’s brash and obnoxious, but charming and vulnerable enough that you don’t hate him.
On the other side of the net is Kit Harington’s Charles Poole. Trained to be a tennis superstar since he was a child, Poole has a terror of a sports mom and few redeeming qualities outside of his athleticism. While Samberg owns many of the scenes in 7 Days in Hell, Harington was pleasantly subtle as Poole. Best known as the heroic Jon Snow on HBO’s Game of Thrones, Harington plays a character that’s wonderfully dim and vacant — the perfect contrast to the over-the-top Williams.
In order to make 7 Days in Hell feel like an authentic sports documentary, there are several cameos from athletes, analysts, and newscasters. Serena Williams, John McEnroe, Chris Evert, Soledad O’Brien, and Jim Lampley help make the movie seem like a real HBO sports production. Fred Armisen and Will Forte help make fun of the overly serious tone of many sports documentaries as a pair of fictitious tennis historians. Rounding out the cast are a bunch of characters playing themselves in a tongue-in-cheeks manner, including magician David Copperfield and movie star Dolph Lundgren. Without spoiling anything, their involvement in 7 Days in Hell is most excellent.
As a fan of the game of tennis and someone that has watched dozens of sports documentaries, I had a feeling that I’d enjoy 7 Days in Hell. The movie was different from what I was expecting. It’s far more crass and sexual than I thought it would be, but the real surprise was how deftly the director managed the short film’s tone. I was very, very impressed by how seamlessly 7 Days in Hell alternated between crass humor and witty satire. Juggling the two contrasting forms of comedy into a congruous experience is difficult and director Jake Szymanski handled things excellently.
While I love the pomp and circumstance of Wimbledon, 7 Days of Hell is a refreshing take on a sport that many view as stuffy and elitist. While the over-the-top humor will appeal to many viewers, the real joy of the film will be had by those that know tennis and sports documentaries. That said, the mockingly serious take on an absurd situation featuring two absurd characters is so good, that there’s a chance 7 Days in Hell will be enjoyed by people that don’t like sports at all. With a runtime of 43 minutes, I recommend giving the movie a shot. If you like it, I recommend watching it again because there’s a lot of subtle and background humor that you’ll probably miss the first time around.
If you’ve watched 7 Days in Hell, I’d love to hear your thoughts on it. Please share your musings in the comments section. Now excuse me, as I’m about to give the movie a third viewing.