As Helen descends the subway staircase, she hears the approaching train, runs, and misses it-or in the second scenario, catches it.

SLIDING DOORS

A Illusion review by Joan Ellis.


At last: a contemporary love story that sparkles. "Sliding Doors" puts its money on Gwyneth Paltrow and wins the bet. Peter Howitt has directed his own devilishly clever script with great ingenuity. This is a good one.

Helen (Gwyneth Paltrow) is fired one morning from her high- profile public relations job. Devastated, she heads for the subway to return home to her lover, Gerry (John Lynch). As Helen descends the subway staircase, she hears the approaching train, runs, and misses it-or in the second scenario, catches it. The rest of the movie tells the story of her two lives, as determined by those sliding doors. It's a clever idea, acted beautifully by Ms. Paltrow in both roles.

Using unobtrusive devices-a dropped earring, a dizzy spell, a chance meeting-to tie the two versions of a life together, Mr. Howitt plays with the role of fate in our lives. What if I had made that train, or turned that corner, or caught that elevator? A missed connection results in two Helens-each reacting to the hand life deals her. Is that what we are: reactors? Often, yes. And you'll be thinking about that after this movie.

If there is a weakness in this film, it's that John Lynch makes Gerry an emotional cripple of Cro-Magnon proportions. A self-indulgent, weak, adulterous, lazy lout, he is too easy to dislike. Whenever Gerry realizes his own atrocious behavior is driving Helen away, he repairs to a bar for the counsel of his friend Russell (Douglas McFerran), who throws his head back and roars a bellyful of laughter. It's a wonderful picture of the only conceivable response to such a cad, and it's extremely funny. Gerry is a man who moves about in the heavy air of lies. Jeanne Tripplehorn's Lydia is also too simplistic a villain.

John Hannah's James, on the other hand, is a compendium of pleasures. Gentle, thoughtful, funny, kind, and sensible enough to stay quiet in the silences, he's a good man without an agenda. With James, even the image of a shared milkshake is poignant. Life becomes radiant. But nothing is quite that simple, is it?

Gwyneth Paltrow has already proven that she is thoroughly versatile in affecting the looks and assuming the moods of nearly any character. Here she is playing a British career professional caught in the spirals of deceit and honor, betrayal and loyalty, that derail so many men and women. The two Helens of this movie both suffer, and Paltrow plays them deftly as each is spun this way and that by the small accidents of fate that tie these stories together so beautifully.

For this musing about fate, choice, and coincidence, Peter Howitt and his fine cast take to the task with relish. Together, they mine the humor in the tangled emotional webs of contemporary courtship. After several twists and a surprise, they send us away asking about our own lives the universal question, "What if..."


Film Critic : JOAN ELLIS
Word Count : 500
Studio : Miramax
Rating : R
Running Time: 1h45m


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