Helen Quilley (Gwyneth Paltrow) is having a terrible day.
After borrowing a few bottles of booze from the office for her birthday, she’s been fired from her job at a public relations firm. And to make matters worse, when she leaves the office and rushes to the tube, she just barely misses her train.
Sliding Doors tells the story of the chain of events that results from Helen missing her train… and, in an alternate universe, what would have happened had she caught the train.
In the timeline where she does board the train, she meets James (John Hannah) on board, and returns home to find that her boyfriend Gerry (John Lynch) is cheating on her. She dumps him and makes a fresh start, with the support of James and her best friend, Anna (Zara Turner). In the timeline where she misses the train, she returns home later, finds Gerry alone rather than with the other woman, and stays in the relationship.
Sliding Doors was written and directed by Peter Howitt.
Though it’s a bit gimmicky, I like the fact that the two narratives in this film are told side-by-side. It’s interesting to see, step by tiny step, just how different the two scenarios are. In some ways they vary wildly, but some of the outcomes are nearly identical. It’s a nice way to execute the telling of this type of story, and to explore the concept of alternate timelines.
The two story lines are very easy to differentiate, thanks to the very obvious visual cue of Gwyneth Paltrow’s hair. In break-up land, Helen cuts her hair and dyes it blonde. (That long-held, widely-used ritual of the post-break-up makeover.) In stay-together land, she keeps it long and light brown.
Paltrow’s fake British accent isn’t the best, but I didn’t personally find it too distracting. The performances are quite good, otherwise — not groundbreaking, but well-suited to the material.
One of my favorite parts of the cast is Jeanne Tripplehorn as the “other woman.” Her character is interesting. She’s given more depth and complexity than I expected her to have when she was first introduced to the story. She’s a brash, opinionated, outspoken person. She’s a bit conniving, and more than willing to cause trouble for Gerry when he wrongs her. But she’s also insecure. In her relationship with Gerry, she’s hopelessly hopeful, somehow believing that he’ll eventually forsake all other women for her and that it will all work out perfectly.
The film’s biggest puzzle, as it turns out, has nothing to do with alternate universes, and it is not the question of why Gerry would ruin his perfectly fine relationship with Helen in favor of an affair with a sassy American woman. Rather, the puzzle is why either of these women would see Gerry as worthy of their time!
The film does move along a tad bit slow at times, despite the fact that it follows two equally-interesting alternating timelines. So, it’s not a perfect film. But it is a unique and overall enjoyable romantic dramedy, well worth a watch for fans of the genre. The score: 3.5/5