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When it comes to making sure I evaluate a movie with a high concept premise on its own merits, I ask myself a simple but important question: Would this property work even without the gimmick? Would 1917 be as thrilling without the "one shot" concept? Would Memento's story be as gripping if it was told in linear order? If the answer is yes, then the high concept premise works exactly as it should: A creative support to give the film a pinch of originality, instead of being its raison d'etre.
22 years after its release, Sliding Doors holds up mainly because it's still a charming and fun Brit rom-com with engaging and relatable characters, as well as a nice balance between the genre's lighthearted tropes and the implementation of some genuinely surprising dramatic turns. The high concept itself is so ingrained in our culture, that mentioning someone's "Sliding Doors moment" will more than likely create an image in one's head, about a split-second incident in the subject's life that resulted in major changes for the future.
Helen (Gwyneth Paltrow) is a go-getter and plucky female archetype of the late ‘90s who's having quite a terrible day. After getting fired from her job, mainly for being a woman and being assertive, she finds her deadbeat "novelist" boyfriend Gerry (John Lynch) in bed with another woman (Jeanne Tripplehorn). Helen took the subway to get home to find out that her life's a bigger wreck than it already is. But what if Helen missed her train, and was too late to catch Gerry cheating on her? As soon as the sliding doors of the subway close, writer/director Peter Howitt splits the narrative in two, giving us two timelines for Helen, one where she got into her train at the last second, and one where she missed it by a split second.
Of course the concept is to examine how much our lives can be altered by the tiniest differences in our day-to-existence. The Helen who took the train is of course devastated by Gerry's actions, but at least she meets the playful and kind-hearted James (John Hannah), who might turn out to be her soul mate. The Helen who came home later is still with Gerry as she tries to put her professional life back together, while dealing with the sneaking suspicion that her boyfriend might be cheating on her. Howitt uses clever editing tricks to show just how much we rely on places and people that give us comfort, showing both timelines of Helen showing up at the same places at the same time, with the same friends who give her different advice depending on where they are in each version.
Apart from this concept, Sliding Doors unravels as a fairly traditional example of the genre for the time, and that's part of its charm, especially if you are into Richard Curtis-style Brit rom-coms like Four Weddings and a Funeral and Notting Hill. Paltrow and Hannah show some natural chemistry, and John Lynch is hilarious as a neurotic weasel who's on the verge of a nervous breakdown because he's juggling two relationships at the same time. The fact that Hannah was never again able to establish a Hugh Grant-type personality as an affable lead for the genre is a bit of a bummer. He certainly proves himself to be a formidable talent here. What I especially appreciate about Sliding Doors is that Howitt isn't afraid of throwing some dramatic curveballs our way, without getting in the way of the film's overall lighter tone in the process.
As a late-90s rom-com, it's expected for Sliding Doors to sport an evenly lit, bright, and colorful look. Shout's new 1080p transfer captures that look really well, without any noticeable scratches or video noise. It's a big improvement over the original 1998 DVD.
The DTS-HD 5.1 track is clear and mixed well when it comes to dialogue. But the surround channels really come to life whenever the film's almost equally famous soundtrack full of hip tunes from the time kicks in.
Audio Commentary by Peter Howitt: As you'll see in the making-of documentary, Howitt is an open and honest character who still has a lot of enthusiasm about his film. This lively and informative commentary captures that personality.
The Sliding Doors Moments: A new 75-minute documentary with the cast and crew reminiscing about the production, as well as how hard it was to get it made in the first place. It's also a treat for the fans that Howitt shares a ton of his home video footage from the production.
A Scroll Through Sliding Doors London: Howitt takes us around London locations where the film took place. It's very cool to see the split screen between the 2019 footage and shots from the film.
We also get a Trailer and a bunch of TV Spots.
With a succinct technical handle on the time-splitting concept, indelible performances, witty writing, and pleasant performances that fit the genre, Sliding Doors is still a good time for rom-com fans. Shout does the film justice with a clear new transfer and extensive information on the production.
Oktay Ege Kozak is a film critic and screenwriter based in Portland, Oregon. He also writes for The Playlist, The Oregon Herald, and Beyazperde.com