Have you ever wondered what would happen if you were running late one morning and you missed the bus? Would the whole rest of your life turn out differently? Or is that the way it's supposed to turn out--missed bus and all? If these questions, which most of us put to rest in those dorm-room discussions that used to last all night, still interest you, you might want to check out Peter Howitt's Sliding Doors. A British romantic comedy starring Gwyneth Paltrow as a public-relations consultant who's just been fired, Sliding Doors imagines two ways the rest of her day (and life) might go. In the first version, she catches the subway, arrives home early, discovers her boyfriend in bed with another woman, leaves him, meets another guy, starts her own PR firm and lives happily...well, something like that.
In the second version, which Howitt interweaves with the first version, Paltrow doesn't catch the subway, doesn't discover her boyfriend in bed with another woman and doesn't live happily...well, something like that. A metaphysical brain-teaser, Sliding Doors questions the roles that chance and fate play in our lives; but Howitt, who also wrote the script, seems primarily concerned with whether Paltrow winds up with Mr. Right or Mr. Wrong. As Mr. Right, John Hannah is perhaps too charming by half. As Mr. Wrong, John Lynch is perhaps not charming enough by half. Howitt often forces the farce, as if he thinks he's written an Alan Ayckbourn play. But whenever he relaxes--and whenever Paltrow's around--the movie opens and closes with lubricated ease, like a magical door to a better life.