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Sliding Doors

Paramount Home Video

Starring Gwyneth Paltrow and John Hannah

Written and directed by Peter Hewitt

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At the beginning of Sliding Doors, Helen is heartlessly fired from her posh London PR job. After just missing her underground train home, she is mugged outside the station while waiting for a taxi. Returning home from a stitching up at the hospital, the trouble-plagued young woman just misses out on catching her self-obsessed boyfriend shagging his old flame. Disheartened by the cruel disruption of her professional life, and under the burden of financially supporting her victimizing boyfriend, Helen takes work as a waitress, wary of the next bleak turn her life will take.

At the beginning of Sliding Doors, Helen is heartlessly fired from her posh London PR job. She barely makes it on board her underground train home, just in time to catch her self-obsessed boyfriend shagging his old flame. Disheartened by this cruel disruption of her private life, Helen spends a few aimless days wallowing in the mess of her life, but is soon inspired to start anew. She starts her own PR firm, meets a charming, courteous man, and looks forward to the next, wondrous turn her life might take.

Helen does indeed do all of these things in Sliding Doors, which is the clever conceit of this otherwise uninspired comedy of life. At the moment Helen makes/fails-to-make it onboard the tube home after her sacking, her life splits in two divergent, yet parallel paths. This "what if?" scenario is an intriguing premise. Helen's seemingly insignificant change in course makes a more profound impact on her life than she could possibly have imagined.

There is mild amusement and a touch of introspection as karma and circumstance weave through Helen's dual-existence, but the insights stop there. Although the inter-cut telling of Helen's parallel lives (each ignorant of the other) is handled expertly by first time writer-director Peter Hewitt (an actor familiar to British television viewers), her story and the characters that populate it are either too bland or one-dimensional to create any intrinsic interest.

As Helen, Gwyneth Paltrow gives our heroine a likable, natural quality, although she labors a bit over the British slang an actual British actress would effortlessly throw away (one would think "wanker" a Royal decree from the way Paltrow boldly announces it). In the "triumphant" Helen scenes, she occasionally sparkles some life into the film, and saves her underwritten character from anonymity, but what little magic she has to offer is sadly muted by the appearance of the dowdy "beleaguered" Helen.

Totally unlike Helen is her new suitor James (John Hannah), a character so aggressively cute and witty that everyone in the film is instantly charmed by him. Meanwhile, everyone in the audience wants to assault him. However, Helen and James fare well compared to the cardboard villains in the picture. John Lynch is a first-class, gutless schmuck as Helen's cheating man, and Jeanne Tripplehorn is an unrelenting bitch as his needy mistress. These are depressing roles for actors who clearly have more to offer.

Despite some ordinary pleasures, Sliding Doors leaves the viewer ruing a shallow treatment of deep thoughts. As it rolls up to its tidy, formulaic punchline, I long for the perplexing, cryptic, but marvelous treats of the similarly themed The Double Life of Veronique. What a fine disc that movie will make — if we're ever lucky enough to see it.

Good transfer, 1.85 widescreen, Dolby Digital 5.1 or 2.0 surround. No extras.

— Gregory P. Dorr

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