There were several moments during Sliding Doors (1998) where I was preparing to write it off as a waste of time, only for it to pull me back in again… and overall, I have to say I think the premise and the story are pretty solid… it’s just the hacky humour and characterisation that sent my thumb edging towards the “stop” button.
For those who don’t know, this mid-Atlantic rom-com-dram, stars Gwyneth Paltrow as ‘Helen Quilley’, a young English woman living in a weirdly anonymous-looking London, who is fired from her job at a public relations company, and finds her life forking in two distinct, parallel directions, when she either does or does not catch the tube train home. So, it’s a bit like one of those “Choose Your Own Adventure” books we all used to read as kids… yes? No? Just me then. In one reality she meets-cute with an ebullient Irish fella named ‘James’ (John Hannah), and catches her layabout boyfriend cheating with his American ex, ‘Lydia’ (Jeanne Tripplehorn)… while in the other reality, she eludes James, and remains totally oblivious to the affair. She also ends up acquiring very different jobs (and hair-dos) in each of the realities, although their paths still criss-cross from time to time. I don’t mind admitting that I got a little chill when the divergence first occurred, and I was desperately trying to figure out how the gimmick would pay off (or even if it would pay off) the whole way through. The Chick Flick book claims “this contrivance is by turns engaging and annoying” (p 46), but as I say, I think it dovetails quite nicely at the end. I mean, the denouement didn’t exactly blow my mind, but it did provide a satisfying conclusion to the story. If I had paid real money to see this film, I wouldn’t have felt cheated by the resolution… just a little disappointed by the general lack of big laughs, and the abundance of bland indie-schmindie music.
A lot of people make fun of Paltrow and her hubby Chris Martin (of Coldplay fame)… but we can’t let all of their extra-curricular shenanigans distract us from the fact that she’s given some very good performances in some very good films: Seven, Shakespeare in Love, The Talented Mr. Ripley, The Royal Tenenbaums, Iron Man… and she even managed to make the last season of Glee a little more bearable, so bless her for that. If I had to pick a fave role of hers, I’d have to go with ‘Margot Tenenbaum’, because I have a soft spot for aloof artistic types, and she was such a striking character, with such a distinctive style. Which reminds me, I thought Paltrow looked particularly fine here with her “Lady Di” do… and Helen made for a compelling and sympathetic heroine, even if the split meant that you had less time to emotionally invest in either incarnation’s fate. Personally, I couldn’t have cared less what happened to Tripplehorn’s character, or Helen’s lousy boyfriend either, because I never really saw them as real people… they were just a couple of cartoony “straw” villains, distracting the camera from our heroine’s progress. And the Chick Flick book agrees, suggesting that “the unattractiveness of [their] supporting characters sours the proceedings too much”. So there. Tripplehorn is better-known right now for her starring role in Big Love… but I’ve never seen that, so the most interesting entry on her resume for me is the three episodes of The Ben Stiller Show she did, back in the day… oh, and an uncredited appearance in Reality Bites.