Sliding Doors [1998]

Genre: Comedy, Drama, Fantasy
Nice concept, shaky execution--that about sums up the mixed blessings of British actor Peter Howitt's intelligent but forgivably flawed debut as a writer-director. It's got more emotional depth than most frothy romantic comedies, and its central idea--the parallel tracking of two possible destinies for a young London professional played by Gwyneth Paltrow--is full of involving possibilities. It's essentially a what-if scenario with Helen (Paltrow) at the center of two slightly but significantly different romantic trajectories, one involving her two-timing boyfriend (John Lynch) and the other with an amiable chap (John Hannah) who represents a happier outcome. That's the film's basic problem, however: The two scenarios are so romantically imbalanced (one guy's a total cad, the other charmingly sincere) that Helen inadvertently comes off looking foolish and needlessly confused. Still, this remains a pleasant experiment, and Howitt's dialogue is witty enough to keep things entertaining. It's also a treat for Paltrow fans; not only does the svelte actress handle a British accent without embarrassing herself, but she gets to play two subtle variations of the same character, sporting different wardrobes and hairstyles in a role that plays into her glamorous off-screen persona. --Jeff Shannon

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