1998, PG-13, 105 min. Directed by Peter Howitt. Starring Gwyneth Paltrow, John Hannah, John Lynch, Jeanne Tripplehorn, Douglas Mcferran, Zara Turner.
REVIEWED By Hollis Chacona, Fri., April 24, 1998
Don't let the title fool you. Sliding Doors has nothing in common with the obstreperous aluminum patio portals in soulless suburban houses. Quite the contrary. This lovely little British movie is filled with the mystery of those noiseless, invisible thresholds around us -- the blind luck of love, the random strike of tragedy, the slippery digressions of deceit. In a finely realized and multi-layered first film, writer-director Peter Howitt treats us to a clever and urbane exploration of the monumental repercussions of tiny twists of fate. Helen (Paltrow) has just been fired from her PR job, and on her way home, dual scenarios are played out. In the first, Helen bumps into a little girl on the steps of the subway and misses her train, delaying her homecoming and affording her philandering lover a narrow escape. In the second scenario (after the footage literally rewinds and begins again), the little girl is whisked out of the way and Helen slips through the closing doors of the train, thereby encountering the charming, jocular commuter James (Hannah), and interrupting Jerry's midmorning tryst. From that pivotal moment of missing or catching the train, the film follows two parallel, but very different, narratives. (Helen #2 cuts and bleaches her hair in a post-betrayal metamorphosis, and so that we'll know just which Helen we're seeing.) The brunette Helen labors on in her relationship, suspicious (Jerry is not the cleverest of Casanovas) and weary (she cannot find another PR position and must take two menial jobs to support them both). She grows paler and more remote in each scene while the blonde Helen, freed by her anger and courted by James, grows more vibrant and joyful (she is, after all, having more fun). But, we find out as the stories unfold, even parallels do not follow straight tracks. The wonderful script is matched by an engaging cast. Paltrow's chameleon beauty dazzles as the dual Helens, wanly aloof one moment and coltishly exuberant the next. Lynch manages to make dirty dog Jerry as endearing as he is exasperating -- a contrite and sweet-faced basset hound who gets into the garbage again and again even though he really does know better. More winning still is Hannah's performance. In a movie literally filled with wonderful surprises, his James is an unexpected gift -- the kind you stumble upon when the fates are smiling. Poorly wrapped and easy to overlook, he's Sliding Doors' reminder of all the hidden treasures out there. If you don't have one yet, you simply haven't happened upon the right door. Yet.