Neighbor's Dog

Complete Title:
How to Kill Your Neighbor’s Dog
Michael Kalesniko

We’ve all been there. Whether it’s in the middle of the afternoon and you’re busily trying to finish a spreadsheet or it’s in the middle of the night and you’ve nearly broken your neck repeatedly straining to read the red digital time on your clock in disbelief-- whatever time of day it is, there are few sounds more irritating than that of a perpetually barking dog. Even for dog lovers such as me who forgive a few vocal barks here and there, there's a certain acceptable line that is crossed when it’s a repeated offense and one without provocation from a stranger, mailman or typical distraction.

This is precisely the same situation that playwright Peter McGowan (Kenneth Branagh) finds himself in during Candian writer/director Michael Kalesniko’s six-time award winning film How to Kill Your Neighbor’s Dog. I should stress that the film's title doesn't reflect its contents. Neighbor's Dog isn’t a twisted instruction manual and without any overt onscreen violence it is not as objectionably graphic as Amores Perros and more importantly the dog in question is just one of the many annoyances the insomniac, misanthropic chain-smoking playwright who’s about ten years overdue for a successful production faces throughout the course of the film.

No, the primary obstacle aside from trying to get his latest show off the ground which is challenged by the offbeat young director’s insistence to perpetually sing Petula Clark songs with no provocation (similar to a barking dog) concerns his relationship with his supportive wife Melanie (the always likable Robin Wright Penn). Much like Peter has been struggling with repeated failures in the theatre, dance teacher Melanie is struggling to combat failures in trying to conceive with an overactive biological clock, which is testing her relationship with Peter as insistence and demand makes setting the mood much tougher, without of course factoring in the barking dog and duties taking care of Melanie’s senile mom (Lynn Redgrave) into the conjugal mix.

Even more difficulties arise when Peter learns he has a doppelganger in the form of Jared Harris who has been wandering around his Los Angeles neighborhood at night pretending he’s Peter McGowan along with a much different obstacle when a single mother and her eight year old daughter Amy (Suzi Hofrichter) move in across the street. Hofrichter, quite mature and charismatic in her portrayal (making her an uncommonly gifted young star), never lets the audiences pity her character’s challenges with cerebral palsy. It's her interactions with Peter who at first uses playtime as an excuse to learn youthful dialogue that grows into a near sibling and child dynamic which are unexpectedly moving, touching yet far more realistic than one would assume.

Kalesniko’s 2000 film with the unfortunate title is a worthwhile find due to his deft and layered script filled with characters whose situations echo one another and dialogue that comes alive when spoken by the film’s leads. Although it was only released on premium cable television here in the states, Neighbor's Dog can also be tracked down on DVD.