Sliding Doors is an interesting film in one respect: It uses a gimmick to explore what we all wonder about each and everyday.
What is our fate, and how coincidence can change fate? There is one movie that I love that tackles these two issues, Red. Now, there is another, Sliding Doors. In Sliding Doors though we actually get to see what happens if something happens and if that something doesn’t happen.
Helen (Gwyneth Paltrow) is an advertising executive in London. One morning she is fired for no good reason. Feeling down, she goes to take the subway home. Here’s where the movie branches into the two story lines. In story line “A” Helen is able to barely catch the train, comes home to find her scummy boyfriend in bed with his mistress, and runs off finding consolation with her best female friend. In story line “B” Helen misses the train, gets mugged, and comes home barely missing her scummy boyfriend’s mistress.
In story line A Helen meets a wonderful man, James (John Hannah), starts a new business, and is almost able to start a new life. In story line B we get to see Helen bumble around with her tongue-tied excuse-riddled boyfriend. Sliding Doors alternates between the two story lines and it was somewhat of a workout trying to keep track of which story line I was watching. Thank goodness director/writer Peter Howitt changes Paltrow’s hairstyle after the split of the story lines.
Deep inside I liked Sliding Doors, but only half of it. I liked the story with Helen and James. John Hannah’s James is just a likeable fellow. From the get-go James charms the audience. The story line (A) is a happy romantic comedy - Hannah’s character providing much of the comedy.
The second story (B) is not as well written and I really didn’t much care for it. Helen’s boyfriend Gerry (John Lynch) stumbles around trying to keep up two relationships. The weak link here is Jeanne Tripplehorn, as Gerry’s mistress, who is painful to watch on screen. Atleast John Lynch has his stumbling around to fall upon - and when he doesn’t have that, we have Gerry’s best friend to entertain us. But, next to that, story line B is a loser story line. It is nothing but the fluff needed to hold up the gimmick that is the staple of this film.
I’d much rather Howitt drop story line B altogether and flesh out story line A, where Howitt puts in contrived “tension” with James' “other woman.”
As for performances, Paltrow handles the double duty very well. I enjoyed her performance very much. She is radiant on screen and it’s nice to see her again - the last film I saw of hers was Great Expectations in which she also gives a good performance. I look forward to see her more on screen, her next film will be the Andrew Davis film A Perfect Murder with Michael Douglas and Viggo Mortensen. The other lead performer in Sliding Doors, John Hannah, steals every scene he’s in. The other two major performers, Lynch and Tripplehorn, don’t fair so well.
Worth mentioning is Douglas McFerran as Gerry’s best friend Russell. McFerran is given all the comedic lines in the film and his performance is one to look for.
Sliding Doors tries to explore the “what if” situations that come from Paltrow’s character catching and missing a train. This exploration into fate and coincidence is used to hold up the gimmick that tries to sell the film. The only problem is that one story line is really interesting and the other is not. And having to try to keep track of both story lines just to see how they end up in the same place is a lot of work. I’m not sure if was worth the work just to see how one story line turned out, much more than to see how the two story lines meet up. Red is a better film exploring the issues of fate and coincidence.
Had Sliding Doors been a film just about the relationship between Helen and James (story line A) I would have given this film a Don’t Miss nod. As it stands, as a film reliant on a gimmick that doesn’t work too well, I give it a good hearty recommendation.
Edited by Cher Johnson.