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.
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
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
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…