Review: Brilliant documentary 'Boys State' offers hope and despair about the future
Courtesy of Apple TV+
An insightful, brilliant, and borderline terrifying look into one of Texas’s long standing traditions, “Boys State,” from filmmaking couple Jesse Moss and Amanda McBaine, highlights a gathering of hundreds of young boys across the Lonestar state, who come together for the annual Boys State convention. Once there, the boys are tasked with essentially forming their own government from the ground up: electing public officials: everything from mayors, city councilmen, until eventually Governor, the highest-ranking office one can achieve.
Nothing really comes from the election process outside of Boys State, other than it looks solid on a college application and you might get a decent scholarship, so really, the gubernatorial elections are a popularity contest. One boy can essentially walk up to the stand, scream to the convention attendees about gun control, abortion rights, and illegal immigration with no real plan for action and get elected. Then again, that’s just politics in general.
Traditionally a conservative convention – it’s sponsored by the American Legion – it should be no shock that if you walk up on the podium and tout your hardcore religious beliefs and unabashed love for the second amendment, it’s easy to secure a nomination, or better yet, win. Some of my favorite lines were: “If you’re a rape victim, we don’t punish the child!” You must remember, these are just a big group of 17-year-old boys who get bored easily and will say almost anything – at one point, an impeachment trial for a council member is put on the table for no other reason than they just don’t like him - to pass the time.
But, despite all the egos in the room and staunch conservatives with their views, some are worth checking out. Most notably, Steven Garza, who comes from a Mexican immigrant family and seems like the last person to garner any nomination for office. Then he gives his first speech and instantly attracts a following. His campaign? Finding common ground with everyone in the room. He wants to find “Something” to agree on you with, even if it’s just “agree to disagree.” That’s a political agenda almost anyone could get behind.
Other boys start to show their character as the documentary progresses. Young Ben Feinstein starts off the film as the one to root for as he’s a double amputee who overcame serious adversity. Extremely bright and intelligent, with a decent sense of humor, and keen on his party winning, it was disheartening to see Ben compromise his own moral and ethical code to rig the election – he runs a smear campaign for the other party’s nomination – and shows no signs of regret.
There’s a lesson to be learned here, and it’s how far humans are willing to go for gratification, and power. It’s just worse because these are the minds that will eventually shape our country and I hope most of them were showboating for the documentary. If not, pack up now and move very far away.
What’s most interesting about “Boys State” is that even when you take away the motives for winning an election, some of these guys will stop at nothing, and I mean nothing, to get their policies enacted. They also sacrifice their integrity to gain nothing except a pat on the pack and the hoots and hollers of their posy.
Still, “Boys State” is a consistently engaging, and essential, doc that tries to blend the good with the bad. We see kids that were on the fence grow into commendable young adults and even some of the more radical ones developing compassion and sympathy for the other party. Which is what the Boys State convention aims to do anyway: mold young minds into the leaders of tomorrow. Some more than others.
BOYS STATE premieres exclusively on APPLE TV+ Friday August 14th