Weekly Wire
Metro Pulse What If?

"Sliding Doors" nicely ponders life and fate.

By Adrienne Martini

MAY 11, 1998:  You never know when the fickle finger of fate will crook itself in your direction. Is today the day you finally get that promotion? Or is it the day that you get hit by a bus? It could go either capricious way, based, perhaps, on nothing more tangible than the movement of a butterfly in some far-off forest.

But you have to admit that it would be unbearably interesting to be able to see what would have happened had you not spilled a cup of scalding coffee in your lap, prompting a trip to the emergency room and a seriously late arrival to the office. Today could have been the day you met the person of your dreams, had you only been at work on time to catch the new UPS delivery dude (or dudette) before he went to his next appointed stop. Wouldn't it be wonderful to see how all of the potential storylines played out?

Sliding Doors, the new film starring the lovely Gwyneth Paltrow and generating beacoup de buzz, muses on just this. Mousy but sassy London PR executive Helen (Paltrow) misses her train—after she gets fired, after she arrives late, but before she has time to replace the firm's stock of client-appeasing booze. Poor Helen's day goes downhill from there: She is mugged, and after a trip to the emergency room, she arrives home—ignoring all the signs that her live-in, out-of-work boyfriend has been less than faithful—and proceeds to live a life that borders on depressingly predictable. On its surface, this is a fairly simple story. Of course, since this is modern-day script-writing, there is a sneaky twist. Those of you who have been the slightest bit conscious during the past few ad-drenched weeks know what this twist is. In an alternate world, Helen catches the train and comes home to find her beau romping with his ex-girlfriend, breaks up with him in a hysterical yet poignant scene, and finds a whole new attitude. In this universe, Helen takes charge of her life and gets a snappy short haircut, which is really just a convenient way to tell the two characters apart since both storylines are told concurrently.

So there is the hook, baited and ready for any willing guppy to swallow. The bait itself is pretty tasty, a new spin on the old heart-tugging, woman-empowering, love-gone-wrong themes, complete with a fresh, talented cast. Paltrow is charming, and both of her Helens are hard not to like. Her British accent is impeccable, as is her acting. John Hannah, of Four Weddings and a Funeral fame, is equally charming, though yards more droll than Paltrow, in his role as her new love interest in the Helen-with-the-short-hair universe. John Lynch plays her philandering boyfriend with heart, making you almost feel sorry for the two-timing lout, and Jeanne Tripplehorn is perfect as the misunderstood, lusty Lydia, the ex-girlfriend with a mean streak.

Goshdarnit, everything in this movie is so nice and heartwarming and funny that it's difficult to not like it. First-time director Peter Howitt deftly handles the divergent storylines, and there are few, if any, moments where you don't know exactly which Helen we are spying on. But Howitt, when he's wearing his writer's hat, has some problems. Sliding Doors suffers from a decided lack of suspense; it is difficult to get caught up in a story that may or may not actually have any impact of the character's real life, whichever one that may be. Howitt's script, while it does explore the possibilities that one missed train may bring, never really answers any of the questions that this twist of timing brings up.

Worse than that, however, is Howitt's writing himself off an increasingly thin limb: as the Helens' lives get farther and farther apart, he is forced to whip out the old Deus Ex Machina in order to wrap the whole thing up, which leaves quite a few characters dangling in the breeze without any real resolution. For a film that struggles to be honest, this too-pat decision butts heads with the smart tone of the preceding hour of footage and rubs viewers the wrong way.

Or, at least, it really rubbed this particular viewer the wrong way. Perhaps I would have enjoyed it more if I hadn't been late for work that morning, if I hadn't gotten stuck in traffic on my way to the theater, if I'd had one more margarita with dinner...

Weekly Wire Suggested Links

Page Back Last Issue Current Issue Next Issue Page Forward

Film & TV: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24

Cover . News . Film . Music . Arts . Books . Comics

Weekly Wire    © 1995-99 DesertNet, LLC . Metro Pulse . Info Booth . Powered by Dispatch