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Sliding Doors  

Sliding Doors is a film with a pretty nifty premise. What if a seemingly insignificant event in your life were altered, yet changed your life forever. That`s the situation given to Gwyneth Paltrow`s character at the film`s beginning. She has been fired from her PR job for a truly stupid reason, (probably an excuse for the other employees to retain their old boys club exclusivity) and forlornly walks to the subway. She is so immersed in her shock and dismay she gently bumps into a child walking up the stairs. To add insult to injury, she also gets there three seconds too late. But then an unusual thing happens. The film rewinds backward, right up to the moment she begins her decent down the stairs. This time however, she misses the kid, who is pulled away by her father at the last moment. And so by the time she gets to the train, she barely squeezes her body inside before the doors make a complete shut. This creates two separate plotlines, which ultimately both revolve around Paltrow`s romantic difficulties.

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When Helen misses the train, she also misses something devious in her own apartment. Her boyfriend is shagging (a word used quite frequently in this movie) an old flame right in the couple`s own bed. When Helen gets home, she wonders at the boyfriend`s evasive behaviour, but doesn`t immediately suspect anything. However, the other time line delivers far different results. She meets a very chatty Scotsman on the train, and is too wrapped up in her own personal problems to really pay a lot of attention to him. The two part benevolently, however, and go their separate ways. But when Helen returns home, she doesn`t just catch the boyfriend and the other woman together, but (how subtle) in that aforementioned noble art of shagging, right in the couple`s own bed. She storms out of the house and moves in with a friend, and while drowning her woes in drink at a bar, she meets up with the guy from the subway again. They hit it off, and slowly develop a relationship.

The two storylines are really an excuse to explore different patterns of relationships which could not be explored otherwise. Both involve the boyfriend Jerry`s lying and cheating, and indecisiveness. When Jerry has broken up with Helen and stays with the old flame, he still finds himself drawn to her during inappropriate moments, like once when Jerry and the flame take a walk, only for Jerry to notice Helen at the pub with a bunch of other people. Jerry proceeds to adore her from afar. But in the other timeline, Jerry still lies and cheats in order to be able to be with the other woman without Helen finding out. And Jerry doesn`t have the courage to tell Helen the truth, much less make up his mind on who he wants to be with. Helen, in turn, shows herself to have been weighed down by Jerry`s deceptions. When she has broken up with him, she is able to get back on her feet and start her own PR firm. She becomes a confident, attractive businesswoman. But in the other timeline, she feels so weighed down by Jerry`s status as an unemployed writer that she goes to work in a sandwich resturant in order to make ends meet.

The acting itself is fine, if not spectacular. Paltrow must have a thing for Britain. Just as in Shakespeare in Love, this movie also sports a fairly convincing English accent in Paltrow`s voice. John Lynch, as her old boyfriend, portrays himself as an indecisive, insecure fool, which he is. Lynch`s acting is miles removed from his portrayal in Angel Baby. The best performance is by John Hannah, who makes his character into something likeable and realistic. Maybe a lot of that has to do with the accent, who knows. But he still successfully avoids the sentimental romantic lover trap and instead becomes a funny, genuine type of person.

The style can be best described as Bunuel Very Very Lite, for we can actually make sense out of the narrative chaos on-screen (which is more than I can say for Bunuel). You actually would wonder the shenanigans Luis Bunuel would get into if he were given this premise, but, alas, you can`t have it all. So what we are left with is a fairly traditional romance, saved by its gimmick. I must be honest and admit that if either plot stood alone as a separate movie, well..... they couldn`t. Both of them are pretty average, and would be merely a standard love story otherwise. In spite of this, the gimmick raises the bar a bit by admitting the part the cruel hands of chance play in actually creating those happy/sad endings. Real life is so random, and the movie understands it is quite possible that missing the train, let`s say, might make the difference between meeting the love of your life and staying with a lying boyfriend and a boring job. However, the story doesn`t always work, and there also are too many similarities in the two stories (which I won`t reveal) that undermine the whole premise. It would be more convincing if the two stories were completely different from each other, and we`d get a real sense of the enormous possibilites of life. The whole movie feels very trapped in the theme of romance. But then this movie wants to be a romantic comedy, not a philosophical statement, so I doubt this was on the writer`s minds. I know it is a real shame Bunuel didn`t live long enough to dig into this story. It wouldn`t have been a romantic comedy or a philosophical statement, sure, but it would have been a lot more fun.

David Macdonald

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