In the 21 years since Sliding Doors first hit our cinema screens it’s entered the public consciousness. It’s since become a term synonymous with speculating life’s ‘What If?’ and ‘If Only’s’. How could our lives be different if we hadn’t crossed the road at that particular time? Would things be different if we had actually gone to that party? Who might we have met? What might we have achieved? How many moments in our lifetime have been Sliding Doors moments?
In the film, main character Helen’s (Paltrow) life-changer of a moment, the moment that originated the term, is something so simple, so everyday yet so truly life-changing. She misses the tube, after being fired from her PR job. By making the train she meets fellow passenger James (Hannah) before arriving home and catching her boyfriend (Lynch) in bed with another woman. By missing the train she ends up being the victim of an attempted robbery which results in a visit to A&E, inadvertently giving her boyfriend’s mistress time to leave the flat.
It’s the meeting or not-meeting of James that drives the film and provides the romance. The film cuts between the lives of blonde bob Helen (the result of a post-breakup haircut) and brown/auburn bangs Helen (the one who is unaware of her boyfriend’s ongoing infidelity). In the former James becomes a best friend and romantic interest, in the other he occasionally appears in the periphery, although he and Helen remain strangers. Jerry’s occasional appearance gives the film a slightly haunting tone, enforcing audience speculation of fate and romantic possibilities.
For this writer there’s an additional layer of meaning to the proceedings, as I wouldn’t exist if it wasn’t for a meet cute on a tube. My parents met on the tube in the late 80s. If my dad hadn’t made *that* train, if he hadn’t sat in *that* carriage and he hadn’t be looking *that* way – I wouldn’t be here. If he hadn’t braved approaching her, if neither of them had phoned afterwards and if my mum hadn’t agreed to go out with him – I wouldn’t be here. For years there was a running joke about their ‘Sliding Doors’ relationship – although theirs predated the film by about a decade. Watching it as an adult it didn’t just result in abstract contemplation of these possibilities, but literal contemplation of my own existence. Everything had to align, all of the aforementioned factors had to be just right to get them there and, in turn, me here.
The film truly holds up in its exploration of this concept along with ageing rather well. Although it’s high concept and routed in London, through and through, it’s a story that’s rather universal. Thanks to a truly sympathetic dual-role by Paltrow, a rather swoon-inducing supporting performance by Hannah (although the Monty Python and Beatles quoting could be seen as borderline obnoxious) and smarmy take on the gross boyfriend by Lynch this is one of the finest romantic comedies to come out of the 90s. And arguably the 20th Century overall. It’s funny, sweet and relatable. And, for those of us in need of it, it gives hope as we wonder who or what fate will befall upon us.
Dir: Peter Howitt
Scr: Peter Howitt
Cast: Gwyneth Paltrow, John Hannah, John Lynch, Jeanne Tripplehorn and Zara Turnero
Prd: Sydney Pollack, Philippa Braithwaite
DOP: Remi Adefarasin
Music: David Hirschfelder
Run time: 99 minutes
Icon Film Distribution presents Sliding Doors on collector’s edition Blu-ray and DVD May 13th.