Just when you thought formulaic movies had won, along comes something like this. To be precise, along comes Peter Howitt, actor-turned-writer-turned-director, with the most original, inventive, intelligent film since Four Weddings And A Funeral. The concept is inspired and the realisation, with its complexities and double takes and juxtapositions, never feels forced. Gwyneth Paltrow surpasses her covergirl-of-the-moment image with a strong individual performance.

What if...

What if Helen (Paltrow) had caught that tube train after being sacked from her PR job and made it back to the flat to find Gerry (John Lynch), her boyfriend, in bed with Lydia (Jeanne Tripplehorn), an older American woman, instead of missing the train, being mugged in the street, going to hospital with a cut eye and coming back to find the writer-who-can't-finish-his-novel taking a shower at 11.30 in the morning.

Howitt follows the twin storylines simultaneously: Helen leaves Gerry and becomes involved in a perhaps/maybe kind of way with the amusing, charm-fuelled, success-ready James (John Hannah), or Helen stays with Gerry, who continues to cheat on her - he hates himself, but he can't help it - while she struggles with two part-time jobs to pay the rent.

The trick is beautifully handled, parallel narratives leaping from expectation to doubt to heartbreak, exposing, with considerable wit and honesty, the myth that relationships teach you something about the other person. All is lies, presentation and wish-fulfilment, summed up by Lydia, who says, "I'm a woman. We don't say what we want."

Paltrow has not only mastered the sharp lingo of a modern London girl, but has the body language to prove it. Lynch is all weakness-in-the-face-of-beauty, an Irishman in search of cracking stories to hide the truth that will destroy him, until the next irresistible temptation tears him from his work. Hannah has a natural ease with his emotions that lifts James off the shelf, marked CHAT UP LINES & CHEAP JOKES, into the more glamorous world of nice guys making it, except you can never be sure, can you?

About anything.

Reviewed on: 19 Jan 2001
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Alternate universe split comedy drama, featuring splendid performances.
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Director: Peter Howitt

Writer: Peter Howitt

Starring: Gwyneth Paltrow, John Hannah, John Lynch, Jeanne Tripplehorn, Zara Turner, Douglas McFerran, Paul Brightwell, Nina Young, Virginia McKenna, Kevin McNally, Terry English

Year: 1997

Runtime: 99 minutes

BBFC: 15 - Age Restricted

Country: US / UK

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