In our highly competitive culture, many individuals use their cynicism and anger as fuel to propel themselves through the day. For them, addiction to agitation is a way of life, and their minds are always bubbling over with judgments and critical comments. In some cases, this selfish behavior is even viewed as a source of creativity.

That certainly is the case for Peter McGowan (Kenneth Branagh), an angry and curmudgeonly British-born playwright living in Los Angeles with his American wife Melanie (Robin Wright Penn) and her mother (Lynn Redgrave). Once very successful, he has had a string of box office failures. Rehearsals for his new play about sexual politics are not going well and everyone knows it — the eccentric director (David Krumholtz), the laid-back producer (Peter Riegert), and the two main actors.

This feeds Peter's anger, along with the pressure he's feeling from his wife to have a child. Then there's the mater of a neighbor's barking dog that keeps him up all night. And a stalker (Jared Harris) claiming to be Peter has appeared in the neighborhood.

Writer and director Michael Kalesniko has fashioned an acerbic comedy that cleverly depicts the spiritual turnaround of this jaded and tempermental playwright. The catalyst is Amy (Suzy Hofrichter), a nine-year-old who moves in next door with her single mother (Lucinda Jenney). Criticized for using dialogue in his play that no child would utter, Peter decides to befriend this little girl and pick up some authentic lines spoken by a kid.

Much to his surprise, the man who has no interest in children finds himself bonding with Amy. In the process, his rage begins to subside as it is transformed into genuine caring feelings toward her. How To Kill Your Neighbor's Dog turns out to be a surprising drama about the emptiness of cynicism when stacked up against the bounties of compassion.

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