[Screen It]


(1998) (Gwyneth Paltrow, John Hannah) (PG-13)

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Romantic Comedy: A split second moment sends a woman's life in two separate directions, creating parallel worlds where her two selves must choose between her cheating boyfriend and a new and charming man.
Helen (GWYNETH PALTROW), a public relations specialist, has just been fired from her job. Racing to catch the subway home, she just misses it as the sliding doors close in front of her. Yet, in an unexplained fantasy sequence, another version of her does make it onto the train. From that moment on, the two different Helens continue with their parallel, but now decidedly different lives.

The Helen who makes it onto the subway meets a charming man, James (JOHN HANNAH), and then gets home in time to find her live-in boyfriend and aspiring novelist, Gerry (JOHN LYNCH), in bed with his former girlfriend, Lydia (JEANNE TRIPPLEHORN). The Helen who didn't make it onto the train nearly gets mugged on the way home, and thus is delayed long enough to miss Lydia leaving their place. The first Helen then goes to stay with her best friend Anna (ZARA TURNER), while Gerry confides in his best friend, Russell (DOUGLAS McFERRAN), about his romantic problems.

As the separate Helens and their lives continue in different directions -- the first falling for James whom she later meets again, and the second becoming suspicious of Gerry -- they must decide what is best for each of them.

If they're fans of someone in the cast or of romantic comedies with a fantasy twist, they just might. Preteens, however, will probably have no interest in seeing it.
For some sexuality and language.
  • GWYNETH PALTROW plays a woman whose life is split in two and then follows two separate directions. Along the way she cusses some, drinks some more, and sleeps with two different men (as her two separate selves) and gets pregnant from each.
  • JOHN HANNAH plays a charming man whom one of the Helens meets and who sleeps with her (getting her pregnant).
  • JOHN LYNCH plays Helen's cheating boyfriend who tries to carry on a relationship with both her and his ex-girlfriend and ends up getting them both pregnant.


    OUR TAKE: 7.5 out of 10
    Nearly everyone has, at one time or another, played with the notion of "what if." Whether it concerned wishing you had done something different -- maybe just one small thing -- that could have prevented something bad from happening, or kicking yourself for not having done something else that would have changed your life for the better, we've all played that game. Of course, logic dictates that we not cry over spilled milk and that it's all water under the bridge that can't be retrieved, but still, we all persist in thinking about what would have happened had we done just one thing differently.

    Taking that notion and turning it into a full-length motion picture, writer/director Peter Howitt (a former Oscar nominated set decorator) has crafted a clever and wry romantic comedy. Allowing us to see how different, and yet how similar one's life would be if just one thing had changed in the past, this story is not only easy to relate to, but also a lot of fun to watch.

    Of course a story like this does require an extra dose of attention so that one can remember which version of each character they're watching. It's easy with Helen, for quite early in the story Howitt has one of them injured in a mugging, thus requiring an identifiable bandage. Later on, he then has one of them get a new hairdo thus making it that much simpler to keep track of the "twins." Yet it's those other characters that may give audiences a devil of a time making sure they know which Gerry, James, or other character they're watching at any given moment.

    Things could have gotten much more complicated had the two parallel lines suddenly criss- crossed, and while they do bump near each other, they're fortunately kept apart enough to avoid a major headache. Even so, the thought of the many comedic possibilities of such interchanges and mistaken identities with two sets of identical people makes one wonder if this were something that should have been explored. Yes, I'm guilty as charged for wanting to rewrite the script -- and it would have resulted in a completely different movie -- but the thought is still tantalizing.

    What's also interesting is that unlike other similar stories ("A Christmas Carol," "It's A Wonderful Life," "Groundhog Day," etc...) where a person's life is inexplicably altered and they learn to become a better human being from their experience, that doesn't occur here. It's as if Howitt is saying that life is only a matter of chance and that we have no control over our destinies. It's also never really explained why this odd phenomenon occurs. While an explanation would have been nice, it turns out it's not overtly necessary and after the brief odd moment where the film suddenly backs up, we never really think about the how's and why's of what did and is currently happening.

    A bigger, and nearly devastating problem, however, is the manner in which Howitt resolves the split identity problem. Although everything turns out okay in the end and the characters, like the audience, seem pleased with the finale, the moments leading up to it nearly derail this pleasant little story. Suffice it to say, the route taken to resolve the predicament is quite sudden and shocking, but fortunately isn't damaging enough to ruin the film. Even so, one has to question why Howitt didn't use a more pleasant "fix" to wrap up the story.

    On the positive side (which is significantly greater than the sum of our criticisms), the writing is quite good, even beyond the split identity plot concept. The characters are believably written and deliver sharp and witty bits of dialogue that, while never quite nearing what you would call knee- slapping status, are often funny and charming. It's always nice to find characters that seem and sound real, and this film delivers both.

    In direction correlation, the performances, for the most part, are good across the board. Currently a quite busy actress, Gwyneth Paltrow ("Great Expectations," "Hush") inhabits her role of dual parts with great ease. Sporting a quite natural sounding English accent (that is actually harder than it seems), she's perfectly believable as both the mousey girlfriend and the now- liberated -- and stronger for her tribulations -- woman. Apart from her role in "Emma," this is her strongest performance of recent and readily showcases her acting abilities. For instance, her perfect deadpan reaction to catching her boyfriend in bed with another woman is comedically priceless.

    So is John Hannah ("Four Weddings And A Funeral") as Helen's new boyfriend. Playing an unassuming character -- and Monty Python fanatic -- who's oozing with charm, Hannah is delightful in his role. Given the best lines in the film -- commenting, for instance, on how they should call the Beatles the "Featles" since everyone subconsciously knows their lyrics as they've been passed from mother to fetus through the amniotic fluid while in the womb -- his frequent appearances and funny observations bring a smile to both Helen and the audience.

    John Lynch ("Moll Flanders") is perfectly cast as the cad who nearly makes Helen -- and the audience -- think that he's changed his ways and that perhaps she should return to him -- until his real motives ooze to the surface once again. Jeanne Tripplehorn ("'Till There Was You," "Waterworld") is good as the despicable "other woman," although it would have been nice to see what it was about her that Gerry found attractive. Even so, the shallow characterization easily allows us to boo and hiss at her behavior and she does provide some moments of humorous conflict.

    This film should please fans of the romantic comedy genre, as well as those who like movies with a "Twilight Zone" fantasy twist. Although we never learn whether the parallel lives plot is supposed to be "real," or whether it's just a "what if" daydream on Helen's part, the concept works and draws us in hook, line, and sinker. Despite the momentary, but near calamitous resolution that almost ruins what came before it, the film is still quite enjoyable and charming. We give "Sliding Doors" a 7.5 out of 10.

    Here's a quick look at the film's content. We see two brief sexual encounters that show some brief movement and sounds, but no nudity. Profanity is heavy due to several uses of the word "shagging" that's used as a substitute (both sexually and non-sexually) for the "f" word, and other words and phrases are present as well. There's a moderate amount of drinking with both Helens simultaneously getting drunk in one scene and some bad attitudes abound (particularly from Helen's cheating boyfriend). The film does take an unexpected and mildly disturbing twist near the end, but of course everything turns out okay for the romantic comedy conclusion. Should you or someone in your home wish to see this film, you may want to take a look through the content to make sure it's appropriate.

  • Helen gets fired for having taken home four bottles of vodka on her birthday (that she was going to replace).
  • Gerry and Lydia drink brandy, and he later drinks more.
  • Gerry and Russell drink beer in a bar as do others in several scenes.
  • A friend of James' drinks champagne.
  • As her separate selves, Helen drinks a lot in one scene (beer and shots along with Gerry) and gets drunk (and both selves have a hangover the next day).
  • Helen, James, and his friends drink wine in one scene and later beer after a boating victory.
  • Lydia drinks wine, as does Russell in unrelated scenes.
  • People drink in the backgrounds of various scenes.
  • Gerry drinks wine in several scenes.
  • Helen has a mildly bloody gash on her head after a mugging attempt.
  • Helen has some cuts on her head after being injured.
  • We see some bloody gauze during an operation.
  • A coworker of Helen's says, "I told you -- lesbian," as he refers to her defiant response to being fired.
  • Gerry has both as he tries to carry on an affair with Lydia, who also has both for trying to steal him back from Helen (and for being condescending toward her).
  • A stranger tries to mug Helen in a brief scene.
  • James doesn't tell Helen the entire truth about his dating status, thus causing them unnecessary pain.
  • A stranger tries to mug Helen in a brief scene.
  • A woman falls down a stairwell and is injured, landing her in the hospital, and the same happens for a woman who is hit by a van. For several moments their outcomes are uncertain and one of them isn't good.
  • None.
  • Phrases: "D*ckhead," "Blow job," the English slang terms (ie. Used in England), "Shagging," "Wanker," "Bloke," "Bloody hell," and "Bollocks," as well as the standard "Bastard," "Idiot," "Pissed off," "Geez," "Pissing" and "Freakin'."
  • None.
  • None.
  • None.
  • With the English accents and regional slang, there may be more than listed below. For instance, the term "shagging" seems to be used as a replacement for the "f" word (both sexually and non- sexually), and the terms "wanker" (derogatory for masturbation) and "bollocks" (testicles) also seem to be used as profanities.
  • At least 7 uses of "shagging" (used as a sexual and non-sexual replacement for the "f" word), 7 "s" words (and possibly more: In a scene where Helen walks down a hall it sounds like she may be saying the word several more times), what sounded like 2 slang terms using female genitals ("twat"), 1 slang term using male genitals (the "d" word), 1 hell, 1 damn, and 7 uses of "Oh God," 4 of "God," 3 of "Jesus Christ," 2 of "For God's sakes," and 1 use each of "Oh my God," "Jesus," and "For Christ's sakes" as exclamations.
  • Helen comes home and finds Gerry in bed with Lydia. They're having sex with her on top of him and we see some brief movement (but no nudity) and hear some brief sounds. Moments later, Lydia does show some cleavage in her outfit. Much later, Helen comments on interrupting Lydia "faking your orgasm." We then learn that Lydia is pregnant.
  • Helen, working as a waitress and responding to a customer's come-on to her says, "...After that, if I have any energy left, I give my boyfriend a blow job."
  • It's implied that Helen and Gerry just had sex as we see them in bed together and she comments that it's been some time since she last did that (we don't see any nudity or anything else). We then learn that Helen is pregnant.
  • James and Helen have sex in a quick scene that shows some rolling around under the covers, very brief movement and some heaving breathing (but no nudity). We later learn that this other Helen is pregnant.
  • Helen smokes a few times, Russell smokes once, and a few people in the backgrounds of shots also smoke.
  • There's some brief talk about James' mother being in the hospital and sick.
  • If one's life really would be different if just one thing in the past had changed, or not occurred, etc...
  • Whether one controls their own destiny or not.
  • A man tries to mug Helen and during the brief scuffle she gets a cut on her head.
  • Helen hits and smacks Gerry several times after discovering that he's having an affair.
  • A woman is injured after falling down a stairwell and ends up in the hospital.
  • A woman is accidentally hit by a van and ends up in the hospital where she later dies.

  • Reviewed April 16, 1998

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