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By Pete Vonder Haar | July 30, 2003

Ah, summer. Good times down at the old creek, over at the playground, and in the alley behind the adult bookstore. On second thought, scratch that last one, because in “The Trouble with Boys and Girls,” things are not quite so idyllic. Writer and director Jesse Howard instead has put together the story of Liza (Katrina Athmann) and Tommy (Nathan Daynes), two kids in their early teens who start a cautious friendship in the midst of an escalating gender war.

The movie begins with a group of girls locking their male counterparts in a storage closet and refusing to let them out until the boys apologize for some offense against one of their own. The boys plot their revenge, eventually breaking up a slumber party while the girls retaliate by doing unspeakable things with Willy’s (Sam Russell) dear, departed guinea pig. Meanwhile, Liza and Tommy discover they share a secret love of things neither is particularly good at. Tommy plays the harmonica and Liza dances, both rather badly.

Both are also having problems keeping on the good side of their particular cliques. Tommy is spending too much time AWOL from his buddies, and Liza’s conniving friend Abbey (Alice Moore) just happened to spot her and Tommy playing in an alley. Things come to a head when the boys and girls schedule a footrace to determine who gets “ownership” of the school playground. As you might have guessed, the race is between Tommy and Liza.

This gender-based gang war thing is new to me, I admit. We had boys vs. girls stuff when I was younger, too, but these kids can be real s***s. The boys commit actual property damage when they bust into Abbey’s house, and what the girls end up doing to Tink’s (Colin Smith) new bicycle will make you mourn your long lost banana seats. And are they the only kids in the whole town? If so, do they really need that huge a playground?

When Tommy plays harmonica he’s also prone to falling into these trancelike states where he visits an old man who gives him valuable (if clichéd) life lessons like “Don’t settle.” It’s like “Tuesdays with Morrie” if Morrie was an old jazz playing bohemian. The constant refrain about how the answers are “all within you” also gets a bit cloying after a while.

Athmann and Daynes are a real find. The other kids are your typical loud “Goonies” style adolescents, but Liza and Tommy are the only ones who appear capable of expressing adult feelings. Their relationship makes “The Trouble with Boys and Girls” interesting to watch.

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