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How To Kill Your Neighbor's... (2002)
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Review Date: March 24, 2002
Director: Michael Kalesniko
Writer: Michael Kalesniko
Producers: Michael Nozik, Nancy Ruff, Brad Weston
Actors:
Kenneth Branagh as Peter McGowan
Robin Wright Penn as Melanie McGowan
Suzi Hofrichter as Amy Walsh
Plot:
A writer who is happily married to a woman who wants a child (which he doesn't) soon finds himself struggling to reestablish his successful writing touch, dealing with a stalker, babysitting a next door neighbor's daughter and attempting to keep a neighborhood dog quiet at nights. Needless to say, he struggles on all counts.
Critique:
A completely idiotic and unrelated title for a film that has pretty much nothing to do with the subject matter, doesn't prevent this movie from entertaining from a character point of view, and developing enough interest in most of its relationships, to make for a decent watch. The reason I'm bitching about the title is that it will obviously make certain people rent it believing that it's some kind of "goofy" comedy, when really it's a comedic, but also quite serious, film based in character development. There's a very small subplot about a neighbor's dog but it barely has any resonance to the main point of the film, which is about a writer who suddenly finds himself blocked in both his personal and professional life. Having said that, I'm quite sure that the dog killing thing was a metaphor for something along the way, but God knows I didn't pick up on it. And speaking of pretentious, even though the film does stray towards it every now and then, I was engaged for most of its runtime, and especially enjoyed the transformation of Kenneth Branagh's lead character from beginning to end. Initially, he came off as a real arrogant, self-centered a-hole, whom I thought I would despise throughout, but over time, it was nice to see some of his layers slide off and his real inhibitions come to the forefront. I also enjoyed some of the funnier moments that Branagh spent with his "stalker", and the cute back and forth between him and his mother-in-law (and you are??).

The relationship with his wife was also a little strange and unbelievable at first (why would this lively lady want to shack up with this dick?), but that too was slowly unraveled as the film moved forward. There were also a few tender moments between Branagh and the next door kid that worked, and the directing was well defined in certain spots as well. On the downside, I didn't see much reason to keep showing the parallel life of the writer and his theater environment, and didn't quite "get" the inserts of Branagh being interviewed for a TV program which were slipped in every now and again (was that supposed to be happening before or after the film's events?) I also felt as though none of the rest of the cast received enough background info or development. In a film that is basically about the characters, it's hard to care about them if you don't really get to know most of them all that well (other than Branagh). And if you're looking for a story, look elsewhere, because this film really doesn't seem to have a target goal in mind. Sure, there's a running theme about the lead couple contemplating the addition of a child into their own lives, but other than that, it meanders quite a bit and will likely resonate stronger with the artistic types (yeah, I guess I consider myself in that category, which is why I did get pulled into this dude's tale over time).

Basically, it's a film that will likely not "wow" anyone over and a great example of a "small film", but if you're a writer with a block, a man whose greatest successes are behind him or if you are also undecided about the addition of a small tyke to your own family unit, this film might serve your purposes. Branagh is also pretty good in it, but sadly, Robin Wright Penn doesn't really have all that much to go through with her character. A decent flick with good patches of dialogue, some insight into the world of a successful writer (although a little reminiscent of Woody Allen) and absolutely nothing to do with the killing of dogs.
(c) 2018 Berge Garabedian

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