The late ‘90s dramedy film starring Gwyneth Paltrow has that rare quality of being prestigious while also being so entertaining that you can watch it over and over again.
What’s your favorite movie? Like most questions about favorites, the answer feels like it should be expressive of our identity. But what’s the most rewatchable movie? I bet it isn’t the same. This is the sweet spot where Sliding Doors (1998) lives.
Set in 1990s London, Sliding Doors viewed now is a snapshot of the cultural sensibilities of its time. We meet protagonist Helen Quilley (Gwyneth Paltrow) in a montage of her rush to work, reminiscent of Diane Keaton’s brusque businesswoman in Baby Boom and Anne Hathaway’s pre-makeover sad sack in The Devil Wears Prada. Things get interesting early when in a highly relatable turn the movie splits as Helen’s morning tube ride goes wrong. We get to see two versions of Helen’s life: one where she catches the train and another where she misses it. The beauty of the movie is that one doesn’t know which is the “good” version until the end, and even that’s up for interpretation.
With Paltrow lending gravitas and polish to the film, Sliding Doors is the sort of romantic dramedy that you can have a fun night with and take home to your mother. John Hannah as James Hammerton is a dreamboat of charm reminiscent of the clever gallants of screwball comedies like Clark Gable in It Happened One Night (1934) or Carey Grant in, well, anything. James’ banter is perhaps second only to Billy Crystal’s in When Harry Met Sally.
However, where Harry and Sally meet or even surpass the bar of charming banter set by His Girl Friday (1940), Sliding Doors forfeits the race. Helen rarely volleys quips with James. It’s a net positive for the film, allowing the pain of each travail Helen experiences to be realized in Paltrow’s convincing performance. The film is grounded in a plausibly bleak reality. Herein lies the drama: there are stakes in this world that won’t be playfully written-off like in most romantic films.
Gwyneth Paltrow is the living embodiment of highbrow, that particular blend of patrician beauty and sophistication that the “cultured” public so adores. She’s also an excellent actress who moves fluidly between sexy, tragic, and extra bruthumour—a harbinger of things to come with Bridget Jones and Sex and the City’s Miranda continuing the trend. Paltrow’s ideal qualities make the movie both respectable and fun.
While the genre is routinely dismissed as superfluous guilty pleasure, claims of artistic dearth belie what is largely misogyny. The movie is rewatchable because it has the charm of a romantic comedy and the substance of a drama. With Paltrow’s credibility, Sliding Doors is the kind of treat you won’t be ashamed to enjoy in public.