Paltrow plays London publicist Helen, effortlessly sliding between parallel storylines that show what happens if she does or does not catch a morning train back to her apartment. Love. Romantic entanglements. Deception. Trust. Friendship. Comedy. All comes into focus as the two stories shift back and forth, overlap, then surprisingly converge in ’the most provocative romantic comedy in years!”
Sliding Doors 7.25
eyelights: John Hannah. the picture’s basic conceit.
eyesores: Gerry. Gwyneth Paltrow’s accent. its gender stereotypes. its melodramatic third act.
“Wait. Wait! Your friend Anna thinks I’m cute? Your friend ANNA thinks I’m cute? Shit, I just blew – wait… two eighty-five on the wrong girl!”
I have a love-hate relationship with ‘Sliding Doors’.
One part of me enjoys its basic conceit, of Helen, a young professional returning home after being sacked for unreliability and negligence – except that, through movie magic, we explore two different outcomes: One in which she catches the subway and gets home in time to catch her boyfriend cheating on her, and another where she just misses it and gets mugged.
Naturally, both versions of the character follow completely different paths.
I love a good “What if?”, don’t you? Personally, I often wonder how different my life could be if a certain event had transpired just slightly differently.
And that’s why I like ‘Sliding Doors’.
But the other part of me has a difficult time with the cast and their dialogues: Gwynneth Paltrow is decent but her accent (something like a poor-man’s Emma Thompson) annoys the hell out of me, John Lynch overplays Gerry, an indecisive, selfish, dishonest character who grates on my nerves, and Jean Tripplehorn is transformed into a cliché-spewing stereotype.
The only person who comes out of this half-decent is John Hannah, as James, the counterpoint to Paltrow’s Hannah. In fact, he’s the reason I like this movie so much: He’s not just congenial, he’s downright hilarious – he’s given by far the best material of the picture and delivers it perfectly. I probably wouldn’t watch the picture as often if not for him.
Unfortunately, even his character is marred with a some false drama, when he sees Helen talking with Gerry, her ex, and assumes that she is returning to him. And another in which Helen assumes that James is married and had been lying to her all along. Both events were set up in awkward ways that could easily have been resolved with simple communication between the two.
But, obviously, they weren’t.
Still, I enjoyed the mild cleverness of the piece, exploring both of Helen’s lives. It was carefully edited (with the help of co-producer of Sydney Pollack himself!) in such a way that we always understood which reality we were watching, and they were juxtaposed nicely – the perfect example being when both Helens end up in the same bar for entirely different reasons.
(Of course, it helped that Helen 2 initially had a bandaged head at one point and that Helen 1 later changed her hair.)
Still, the gist of the story is nothing exceptional, just the usual romantic comedy in one and romantic drama in the other. And some of the exposition is awkward as all get out, using such devices as Gerry’s friend establishing things that both likely know already, or Gerry talking to himself in the mirror as though he were talking to someone else (i.e. the audience).
And I simply couldn’t stand the gender stereotyping of Gerry, the douchey philandering boyfriend and Lydia, the man-eating woman who’s trying to get him. Lydia has the worst things to say about women, basically reinforcing the notion that women are manipulative, secretive and vindictive. I hate to say this, but you can tell that the character was written by a man.
Still, I laughed enough watching ‘Sliding Doors’ that it compensated for its cringe-worthiness – all thanks to John Hannah who played his character beautifully and played off of Gwynneth Platrow very well (the two did have a certain amount of chemistry). But turning to this motion picture for any type of insight on the human condition could prove disappointing.
Date of viewing: July 16, 2016