Watch This offers movie recommendations inspired by new releases or premieres, or occasionally our own inscrutable whims. Because it’s 1998 Week here at The A.V. Club, we’re looking back at some of the movies of that bygone year.
Most of us have pondered the road not taken. Sliding Doors actually offers a glimpse of where that road might have led. Inspired by writer-director Peter Howitt’s brush with death from a car that nearly ran him over, the movie features Gwyneth Paltrow in a double role as Helen, a young public relations exec who lives with her boyfriend, Gerry (John Lynch), in London. Soon after the movie kicks off, the plot splits in two. In one scenario, Helen catches a train, meets a cute guy, and most importantly, finds out that Gerry is cheating on her. In the other, the sliding doors of the title lock her out of the train, and she remains in the dark, trapped in her old life.
The movie helpfully differentiates between the two scenarios first with a prominent bandage, then with one of the most glamorous breakup haircuts in cinematic history. The shocked-into-empowerment Helen goes on to additional victories, while the unenlightened version (saddled with a series of service jobs and what might be even worse, pathetic pigtails) plods along in the life she’s unhappy with but isn’t sure how to break free from. Intrigue arrives in the form of that cute guy (John Hannah, riding some Four Weddings And A Funeral momentum), but is he duplicitous as well? How will Helen know the correct path to take?
Answer: She doesn’t. None of us do. But Sliding Doors shows us what might be possible if we take larger leaps. It’s the difference between blonde Helen cheering on her new boyfriend in a weekend afternoon crew race on the river, and dowdy Helen complaining to her best friend about Gerry in the exact same setting. (Producer Sydney Pollack stepped in to help with the film’s high-wire editing.)
Not to say that the movie doesn’t have its flaws, like Paltrow’s lofty London accent. There’s also nothing about Gerry to suggest why two accomplished, beautiful women would be knocking themselves out over this unemployed writer. And Helen’s best friend (Zara Turner) is a thankless sounding board, with apparently nothing to do with her life but move Helen out of Gerry’s apartment and screen phone calls from Helen’s slew of suitors. But the movie’s intriguing and unusual plot split helps glide over those potholes. Both Helens manage to veer into similar scenarios, suggesting that destiny may play even a greater part in life than fate does. Still, after viewing Sliding Doors’ varying possibilities, you may find yourself wondering about the life you’re missing out on every time you miss a train or stay in on a night when you’d planned to go out.
Availability: Sliding Doors is available to rent or purchase from the major digital services. It can also be obtained on DVD from Amazon, Netflix, or possibly your local video store/library.