The Good: Well-paced, Good concept that is executed well, The two lead actors.
The Bad: Mood, John Lynch's attempt at romantic chemistry, One character is used entirely for plot exposition.
The Basics: Sliding Doors is a moody, surprisingly charmless drama that explores the effect of a single moment on a woman's life and the ripple effect it has in her personal and professional lives.
Every now and then, there is a premise that becomes so well-known and referenced that the general population gets the idea whether or not they have seen the source material for that premise. I have found myself referencing Sliding Doors - the Frasier episode "Sliding Frasiers" was based upon the same device, as was (essentially) the Doctor Who episode "Turn Left" (reviewed here!) - that it almost escaped my notice that I had never before seen the film Sliding Doors!
Sliding Doors utilizes a fairly simple plot device to explore the idea that a single moment can change the direction of one's life. Writer and director Peter Howitt makes the moment a very literal one; catching a train in London. From the point at which the protagonist of Sliding Doors gets through the sliding doors of a subway - or not - her story, day, and life take very divergent directions.
Helen is rushing on her way to work Monday morning, where she is fired for taking vodka from work the prior Friday. Leaving the advertising agency at which she works, she goes to the subway, rushing to catch the next one. In one reality, she has to avoid a little girl, which causes het to be stuck outside the train; in another, the girl's mother pulls her close and Helen is able to continue her mad dash to the subway and she makes it into the car. The abandoned Helen learns from the public address system that there has been an accident and there will be no more subways coming. So, Helen goes up to the surface where she is mugged trying to get a taxi. On the subway, Helen sits and ignores the man sitting next to her, James, who is trying to talk her up. That Helen is charmed by James and arrives back in the flat she shares with Gerry to catch him having an affair with Lydia.
The other Helen tries calling Gerry from the hospital, but when he does not answer, she takes a cab home. The difference in time is long enough for Gerry to be done sleeping with Lydia for her to be gone and Gerry to be in the shower when Helen arrives home. Gerry sloppily tries to clean up from his affair and fakes caring for Helen, while in the alternate reality, Helen is despondent. Helen goes out and gets drunk while Gerry tries to track her down, with James arriving at the bar she is at and she tells him just how rotten her day became after they parted ways. In the other reality, Gerry and Helen go to the same bar and get shitfaced drunk, ignoring James and his friend Clive. The next morning, both Helens wake up and are nursed through their hangovers by Gerry and (in the reality where she made the train) her best friend Anna. Anna takes Helen in and gives her a makeover and she mopes for nine days in her friend's care. In the other reality, Helen rushes out and gets part time work to take care of Gerry while he does not write the novel he claims to be working on. One date night, Helen calls Gerry on the presence of two brandy glasses in the bedroom the day she got mugged. As Gerry's relationships with Helen and Lydia fall apart in one reality, Helen gets a new lease on life in the other through her friendship with James and her new determination to start her own business.
Sliding Doors has an impressive cast led by Gwyneth Paltrow, who plays Helen. Paltrow manages to play the role of Helen credibly in both realities by making Helen not overly happy in either reality. Paltrow is able to play giddy drunk for moments, but the bulk of her performance is serious and sad. Paltrow helps to create a mood that is largely consistent throughout the narrative and it helps illustrate that even though a minor incident may change one's life, a single incident does not change one's entire personality.
Paltrow plays off John Hannah as James and John Lynch as Gerry. Hannah is very intelligent and able to make James articulate and plausibly charming. He and Paltrow play off one another very well as a result of excellent on-screen chemistry. Lynch and Paltrow have so little chemistry that the relationship between Helen and Gerry never seems plausible. Lynch and Jeanne Tripplehorn have so little on-screen chemistry that they, too, seem entirely implausible as a viable romantic couple. Tripplehorn makes good use of her minimal time on screen to steal her scenes. Tripplehorn takes a comparatively minor supporting role and makes Lydia seem deeper than just a mistress.
Sliding Doors is well-directed by writer Peter Howlitt and it is hard to say that the film is predictable because I've seen so very many works that are derivative of it. What is poorly presented is the character of Russell, who is Gerry's friend. Actually, what Russell is is a tool for exposition that moves portions of Gerry's story along without having to show it. His character might be a necessary evil in order to give some depth to Gerry outside his relationship, but functionally Russell is a tool.
Ultimately, Sliding Doors does what it sets out to do by illustrating the effects of a single moment on a life and it does it well-enough to be entertaining and worth adapting the technique for other works, even if it is not truly exceptional in its own right.
For other works featuring Gwyneth Paltrow, please visit my reviews of:
Iron Man 3
Glee: The 3-D Concert Movie
Glee - Season Two, Volume 1
Iron Man 2
Running With Scissors
Sky Captain And The World Of Tomorrow
The Royal Tenenbaums
Shakespeare In Love
For other movie reviews, please check out my Film Review Index Page for an organized listing!
© 2016 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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