Sliding Doors (15)

Directed by Peter Howitt
Starring Gwyneth Paltrow, John Hannah, John Lynch, Jeanne Trippelhorn

Four Weddings and a Funeral has a lot to answer for! Ever since that film's success, UK film makers have been trying to come up with something similar, and now this month we have two worthy contenders, Sliding Doors and Martha meet Frank, Daniel and Laurence.
Sliding Doors has the slight edge for me probably, and has the advantage of the biggest star. Gwyneth Paltrow is just about the only American to do a decent British accent, as she proved in Emma. Consequently, UK audiences have become rather fond of her. In this film she is not as posh, her accent ones again perfect, if a little nasal. She plays Helen, a PR person who at the start of the film has a life altering experience. No, not any divine revelation, she misses a tune train- or does she? Ex-Bread star Peter Howitt's ingenious script cleverly splits into two at this point. A tiny thing like missing a train can have huge consequences as we see here. The Helen who catches the train gets home in time to catch her boyfriend Jerry(Lynch)in bed with another woman, but also gets to meet the rather irritatingly charming James(Hannah). She gets to start anew with her life. Meanwhile, the Helen who missed the train gets mugged and arrives home late, missing the clandestine affair and so lives on with her faithless lover. The film follows the two threads as we see how Helen and James get to know one another, and how Helen and Jerry and his other girlfriend reslove their situation.
It is an idea that could tire after a while but writer/director Howitt succeeds brilliantly at juggling the two strands- thankfully Paltrow number 1 gets a new haircut to celebrate her new life so its not so confusing. Paltrow makes an appealing heroine, although I find John Hannah a bit weasel-like and annoying. His characters permenant chirpy too-good-to-be-true cheerfulness grates a bit-minor quibble. John Lynch used to play tortured teens, and actually handles dashing cad rather well. He still tends to spend his time looking mournful but is quite convincing as the rather guilty rotter. His confessor is a drinking buddy(sorry, don't know who he is) who gets a lot of the best lines. Jeanne Trippelhorn has less to play with in as the underwritten bitch determined to drag Jerry away. Also good is Helen's friend(don't know who she is either- sorry!) and the quality of these supporting characters is another plus.
The latter third of the film fizzles out a bit as the two stories come to a head in rather over-dramatic climaxes. Surprise plot twists don't quite convince and the ending is a bit of a letdown, but overall this is a very enjoyable and entertaining film, a little light on laughs to be a true Four Weddings, but with a good idea and story and the ever sweet Paltrow. 7/10

May 1998

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