Written by Peter Howitt
Directed by Peter Howitt
People usually have moments in their lives that they consider to be a crossroads. Simply put, it’s a point where one might look back wistfully and ponder what would have happened had they made a different choice or if the outcome of an event had been something other than what they know.
In Sliding Doors, Helen Quilley (portrayed by Gwyneth Paltrow) has one of those moments. On a day already not going so well due to her termination of employment, Helen’s life is changed by something as simple as managing to catch a train or having its sliding doors close on her. Viewers are treated to a look at what her two very different lives would look like.
In the life where she catches the train, she makes it back to her flat to catch her live-in boyfriend, Gerry (portrayed by John Lynch) having a roll in the hay with a former lover, Lydia (portrayed by Jeanne Tripplehorne).
In the life where she misses the train, she survives an attempt to steal her pocketbook and ends up in the hospital, missing the potential to catch Gerry and Lydia in the act.
Through the ins and outs of what happens in each of these lives, the question is what is better? Is she better off in a life with Gerry where he’s cheating on her and denying it over and over again while she continues to try to support the two of them?
Or is she better off with James (portrayed by John Hannah)? She meets James while on the train after managing to catch it. The two begin a romance that stalls a bit, and then they meet up again. However, it appears that he also is not what he seems and her heart seems destined to be broken once again.
Both of these existences have parallels and yet are still different in their own way. To distinguish between the two realities, Helen changes her appearance drastically after having caught her lover with another and appears as a short-haired blonde while remaining with long auburn hair throughout the other existence. Although this might help at times, I found many of the jumps between the two realities to be fairly indistinguishable for a few moments, leaving me quite disoriented as to what was going on in the story.
Throughout the two stories, Helen in her very different incarnation appears to be in the same place at the same time, albeit in a different setting. If that sounds like it doesn’t make sense, it really does when viewed. For example, Helen might end up on a night of the week in a particular pub with Gerry in one existence and James in the other. Although this adds somewhat to the confusion, it also serves to bring the two realities together.
The metaphor of doors opening and closing is used throughout the film and reminds me of the adage my grandmother used to say: When one door closes, another one opens… There are times when she is standing somewhere staring at a door while it opens and closes, or as an elevator door just closes as she arrives, that it’s a subtle indicator of a pivotal point of that existence. I found that to be an excellent allegory by Writer/Director Peter Howitt.
The performances in Sliding Doors are excellent. The two actors who play the lovers in Helen’s life are people I have never seen before. John Hannah does an excellent job as the light-hearted James. He’s funny without overdoing it and it seems to flow naturally from him. I just want to believe he’s a great guy. John Lynch is good as Gerry, acting in a selfish and immature manner throughout the movie, unable to commit to Helen but also unable to be honest with her. He’s sympathetic in a way, especially near the end, but at the same time, I wanted to claw his eyeballs out. Tripplehorne has a great role as the (ex?)-girlfriend who might just be a little on the stalker/psychotic side. I couldn’t help but feel that maybe Gerry and Lydia really do deserve each other.
I would never call myself a fan of Gwyneth Paltrow, but I thought this was perhaps the best performance I’ve seen of hers. She vacillates between the two existences and makes the two Helens very different and at the same time very similar. I could see the Helen I got to know in the setting where she dumped her boyfriend behaving like the Helen I know from the setting where she is still with him. There are enough similarities in phrasings and mannerisms to keep the two connected, while there are also some major differences that separate them. She had me pulling for the reality where she dumped the jerk to win out.
That was one point that held me up throughout the film, was wondering where it was going to go and how it would resolve. Unlike other films such as Family Man with Nicolas Cage where we see a reality we know he will have to walk away from, there’s no real point in Sliding Doors that says one reality has to win over another. Either one is viable for Helen, especially as the threads which are tying them together become more pronounced near the end. The ending does bring the two together, if in a somewhat tragic way, but I was left with the hope that when things are meant to be they will work out that way, somehow.
All in all, Sliding Doors was a pretty good film. I enjoyed it more than I thought I would probably due to the excellent performances and a somewhat unfamiliar setting in the streets of London. It was nice to view parts of a place I have yet to visit. The pace of the film was very good as there were very few slow spots, something which occurs in many romantic comedies. It’s a great film to watch for both men and women, although some men might not like the fact that they see their reflection more in Gerry than in James.
Categories: Movie Reviews