How to Kill Your Neighbor's Dog
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I’ll admit that my reasons for selecting this movie weren’t entirely pure. I saw it on the shelf, and the title made me laugh—because I just moved into a new neighborhood, where everyone has at least one dog. Except me. But, just for the record, I didn’t decide to watch this movie as research for some unspeakable future crime. Really. My neighbors’ dogs are quite well behaved. Most of the time.

The movie, however, isn’t really about a dog. It’s about a successful Hollywood playwright named Peter McGowan (Kenneth Branagh) who hasn’t been all that successful lately. His last several plays have bombed, and his latest is heading in the same direction, thanks to his ridiculous new director. He can’t sleep at night because the neighbors’ new dog barks all night, keeping Peter awake. He’s fighting with his wife, Melanie (Robin Wright Penn), because she wants to have a baby and he doesn’t. And he’s been struck with the bane of every writer’s existence—writer’s block. If he’s not at the theater, watching his new director mess up his latest play, he’s staring at a blank screen on his computer, trying to come up with yet another play. And if that weren’t enough, there’s also some strange guy running around his neighborhood at night, introducing himself as Peter McGowan.

One day, a new woman moves into the neighborhood with her eight-year-old daughter, Amy (Suzi Hofrichter). Melanie immediately warms up to the little girl, but Peter keeps his distance—until he realizes that he just might need her help. When everyone working on his latest play (even the janitor at the theater) tells him that he doesn’t know how to write kids, Peter turns to Amy, who ends up teaching him much more than just kid stuff.

How to Kill Your Neighbor’s Dog is an absolutely fabulous film. It’s smart and witty at times (at others, it’s just plain hilarious), with a solid thread of drama running throughout. Branagh is perfectly pretentious (in a refined, Frasier-like way) in his role as Peter, and Penn is delightful as sweet, playful dance instructor Melanie. Their characters couldn’t be more real. They’re a real couple—they have their differences, they get angry, they fight, but they’re still totally in love with each other. And the amazing chemistry between Branagh and Penn makes them all the more real. They fight well, and they play well.

The rest of the cast only adds to the quality of the film. Lynn Redgrave is both humorous and touching as Peter’s ailing mother-in-law. The Other Peter McGowan (Jared Harris) provides more than his share of laughs. And Suzi Hofrichter does a great job of playing a cute kid without becoming annoying—as cute kids in movies often do.

Together, the spectacular cast, the outstanding performances, the comedy, the drama, the confused doppelganger, and the neighbor’s barking dog make How to Kill Your Neighbor’s Dog worth every minute of your time. In fact, it’s so good that it’s worth watching more than once. But, just for the record, you won’t actually learn how to do away with the barking beast next door…

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