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Sliding Doors

Posted by martinteller on January 4, 2014

Helen (Gwyneth Paltrow) has just lost her PR job.  On the way home, she just barely misses her train and gets mugged trying to hail a taxi.  When she gets home, her lover Gerry (John Lynch) wines and dines her.  Gerry is an aspiring novelist who spends most of his time at the library.  Helen gets part-time work waiting tables and delivering sandwiches, bringing home the bacon for the both of them.  But Gerry’s behavior raises her suspicions.

Helen (Gwyneth Paltrow) has just lost her PR job.  On the way home, she just barely catches her train and meets a talkative chap names James (John Hannah).  When she gets home, she finds her lover Gerry (John Lynch) having sex with his old flame Lydia (Jeanne Tripplehorn).  She storms out and heads to a bar where she bumps into James again.  Her friend Anna (Zara Turner) shows up and she and James take the drunken Helen back to Anna’s place.  Helen eventually starts her own PR firm and falls into a relationship with James.  But there may be more to James than meets the eye.

Well, if you know me, you know I’m going to compare this to Kieslowski’s Blind Chance.  While it’s not nearly close enough for me to call Sliding Doors a rip-off, I imagine that there is an influence.  Or I suppose it’s possible that writer/director Peter Howitt came up with the “character either misses or catches a train, creating separate storylines” premise independently… it’s not the craziest concept in the world, really.  And beyond the central conceit, there are significant differences between the two films.  BC contains three threads, SD has two.  BC‘s stories are told in succession, SD‘s are concurrent.  BC is a film that shows how a single small event can change the course of your life, how political beliefs can be based on mere chance.  SD presents two different romantic scenarios and ultimately has an emphasis on destiny rather than chance.

While there’s nothing inherently wrong with this movie’s approach, it leaves poor Helen without any agency.  Seemingly everything in her life is dictated by whatever man she’s with, and her happiness depends entirely on which guy she’s humping (and getting impregnated by… ever hear of condoms, Helen?).  Helen’s a decent person, you like Helen.  Paltrow is talented enough to convincingly portray a character who develops two different attitudes.  And her British accent isn’t all that bad, either, except every time she says “shagging”, “bloody” or “daft” she calls too much attention to it.  But she’s not a strong character in either scenario, both in the sense that she doesn’t seem to have any self-motivation and in the sense that she has little definition to her personality.

The characters around her are equally poorly-drawn.  James is an annoying quip machine, with Hannah’s natural Scottish charm being obliterated by the character’s need to make dumb jokes all the time.  No one needs to re-enact an entire Monty Python sketch, ever… how that isn’t an instant turn-off for Helen, I don’t know.  Gerry is so unsavory that it’s impossible to imagine how he could two such attractive women.  It’s never explained why either Helen or Lydia is drawn to him.  I could see if he was the brooding writer type, but he’s just weaselly and weak and by all indications has never actually written anything.  Anna is pleasant, but she’s a boilerplate “best friend” we’ve all seen a billion times before.  You want to root for Helen, but she’s surrounded by clichés and hollow characters.

The film has no less than three montage sequences, possibly as many as 6 or 7 depending on how loosely you define montage.  None of them are particularly satisfying and certainly not original or clever.  Also, the soundtrack is terrible.  The movie just isn’t executed well, and although we can excuse Howitt as a first-timer, it doesn’t make the experience any more enjoyable.  This concept could be put to good use, if it wasn’t in the service of two such uninteresting stories, or it was given more weight as a concept.  Howitt introduces a few moments of synchronicity (again, shades of Kieslowski) but they come off as gimmicky and contrived rather than meaningful.  The script has potential… but it needed a few more rewrites before hitting the screen.  Rating: Poor (47)


One Response to “Sliding Doors”

  1. […] Best new discovery: Shonen and Peggy Sue Got Married (tie) Worst new discovery: Sliding Doors […]

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