The day Helen gets fired from her savvy British PR job is both the first day of her new life and the last day of her old. With fate hanging on the timing of a certain pair of “sliding doors”, whether or not Helen catches the subway home to her flat will ultimately determine the future course of her life; the audiences being privy to witness both possibilities simultaneously.
Written and directed by: Peter Howitt.
The cast includes: Gwyneth Paltrow, John Lynch, John Hannah, Zara Turner, and Jean Tripplehorn.
Tagline: “Sometimes it’s just a matter of fate, other times it’s a matter of sliding doors…”
Set in contemporary England, the film commences with a professional Helen Quilley (Gwyneth Paltrow) rushing to work with a bag full of liquor and a few expletive remarks. A roundabout verbal and visual lashing from her testosterone filled co-workers and superiors and a newly ‘sacked’ Helen heads home to confront her beau, Gerry (John Lynch), with the bad news. But the jobless ‘novelist’ is, rather than working on his latest novel, or even feigning to attempt research for the futile project, is engaging in an illicit affair with his U.S. native ex, Lydia (Jean Tripplehorn).
As Helen rushes to the nearest subway she haphazardly misses the bus, so to speak. Rewind… Helen is once again rushing to the subway only this time she avoids her ‘juvenile’ obstacle and catches the bus. From here on out Helen’s future is a bi-fold narrative that pans back and forth between the ‘two’ life stories of Helen: the Helen that catches the subway and the Helen that misses the subway.
To patly summarize Helen’s fate, without of course giving away the final conclusion (make that conclusions): The first Helen, you know, the one that misses the subway, she will later get mugged the same day and head home hours later, just in time to miss Lydia’s fast exit from Helen and Gerry’s flat, where the now showered wanker of a boyfriend feigns concern and takes Helen out for a night of drunken sorrow drowning. One massive hangover later and Helen begins to live out the mundane repetition of her less than exuberant relationship with the indifferent Gerry while he flippantly pursues to romance Lydia behind her back. Meanwhile, to continue supporting Gerry’s “novel drafting” Helen will take on several part time jobs working well over 40+ hours/week and enduring a slew of insults along the way, including those from the smug Lydia. All the while Helen will begin to suspect that Gerry maybe having an affair, though she can’t seem to solidly put 2 and 2 together. All the same, eventually both Lydia and Helen will become pregnant by the same man and, Lydia being the obviously more forward of the two and both women will be forced to make a decision that will forever alter their future with respect to their indecisive and inept lover, Gerry.
The second Helen, the one that catches the subway, will rush home to catch Gerry and Lydia in the middle of their dirty deeds. After a smug Lydia flippantly exits center stage, Helen follows not far behind, seeking refuge at her best friend’s, Anna (Zara Turner), flat. In the meantime she will meet an uncanny albeit affable young man, James (John Hannah), whom she will eventually become very smitten with. Finding work via means of starting up her own PR business, Helen will help James’ best friend launch his new restaurant, quickly earning a soft spot into James’ heart… and so it seems all’s well that ends well.
However, despite the fact that her catching the bus and enduring the heartache upfront seems the obvious better of the two choices at this point, another painful twist will emerge in the complicated dual life-line of Helen that will muddle the picture. The Helen that catches the subway and breaks up with Gerry will eventually be confronted by Gerry in the midst of her new happy relationship with James. To further complicate matters James has another dark secret that will threaten to undo Helen’s hard-earned security and happiness at last. Ironically, in Helen’s second life, just as in the first, she will once again become pregnant. Only this time the father is James. But Helen has two lives to live out and that means two different endings, for both baby’s and beaus alike and Helen will once again brace herself for the unexpected, albeit predictable, tragedy that still awaits her. Seems she hasn’t fully run her course before she can at last find real love.
“Sliding Doors” is an uncanny drama, romantic comedy that catches the melancholic melodrama that arises from the most miniscule nuances of our everyday lives. From something so simple, and seemingly insignificant as missing the subway Howitt develops a theory postulating the “Butterfly Effect,” so to speak, and how even the slightest changes can forever significantly alter the course of our lives. Though Helen’s dual fates seem at first antithetical, in the end Howitt develops obvious parallels and congruencies that begs the question: is there such thing as fate? If Helen was always destined to get pregnant does the fact that she missed the bus really affect the fate of such an event? Howitt suggests the answer is “no” by depicting Helen as pregnant in both life-lines. Thus, here it seems it’s not as important “whom” the father is as much as it is significant that, in the end, whether or not she caught the subway, Helen was always to “be” pregnant. This is just one example of the multiple “philosophical introspections” the film attempts to speculate by creating two polar opposite and yet congruous life paths for Helen’s character. The end result is a charming romantic comedy that oscillates between a light refreshing tone and the more somber serious pontification of drama’s philosophical edge.
As far as the cast goes, Tripplehorn is solid in her performance of the overly vindictive, and vengeful, albeit desperate and insecure ex. Lynch plays the tortured playboy almost as well as Hannah charms his way into Helen and audience’s hearts with his lingering accent and boyish grin. Paltrow of course plays the deadpan strong-willed British woman and her performance is solid enough for conviction; although you shouldn’t expect any Oscars here. All the same the cast was solid and their performances gelled well enough to enhance, not detract, from the unique vision and direction of Howitt and his compelling unique script. Witty one-liners and British pop-culture references, such as Monty Python, also help make this comedy particularly novel in its acting as a montage of British culture.
SLIDING DOORS won 6 critical film awards including the Empires Award for Best British Director, the European Film Awards for Best Screenwriter, etc. and received another 2 nominations such as the BAFTA Award for Best British Film.
Gwyneth Paltrow plays Helen Quilley, an out of sorts British woman looking for love and a piece of mind.
John Lynch plays Gerry, Helen’s ex-boyfriend whose illicit ways provoke the rollercoaster that is Helen’s unpredictable future fate.
John Hannah plays James, the suave new ‘friend’ with the potential to mend heartache.
Zara Turner plays Anna, Helen’s loyal best friend.
Jean Tripplehorn plays Lydia, the femme fatale; Gerry’s ex who re-enters the picture with the intent of ousting Helen out of it.