“Boys State” founded by the American Legion in 1935 is something I admittedly knew little to nothing about. Each state chooses two high school juniors from each of their schools and allows them to compete in mock political events. Consisting of around 1,000 students (in the film’s case Texas), designing/building a government from the ground up. These boys are some of the brightest minds from their perspective schools that know a large amount of political insights. Now when you hear a premise like this, you may not think of it as rousing cinematic fair. What we get is one of the funniest, smartest and insightful films that 2020 has offered thus far.
What directors Amanda McBaine and Jesse Moss do exceptionally well is show humanity. Not necessarily the humanity of the politics, but the humanity of this fine group of young men. Capturing over 18 terabytes worth of footage, what makes this stand out is the many perspectives the film comes across. McBaine and Moss take us deep into politics with the mechanics of elections, general votes, etc. The events are designed to not only teach political practices to these men, but help in explaining them to an audience. As a filmmaker in general, it can be incredibly difficult to make politics interesting. In some cases, the subject may be dull but others may focus more on the controversies. “Boys State” walks a fine line, but following the group of fascinating young men that we do, makes it quite compelling.
It focuses on four different Texan boys; Robert MacDougal, Ben Feinstien, Rene Otoro and Steven Garza. Each of these boys is given multiple moments that signify who they are and what they hope to achieve both during “Boys State” and after. What makes them each so incredibly unique and interesting is how they aren’t archetypes but defining looks of idealism. MacDougal is a conservative Texan who hopes to eventually attend West Point but is much funnier than meets the eye. Ben Feinstien is a strong, independent political hopeful with two prosthetic legs due to having meningitis as a child. The fourth and arguable breakout of the film would be Steven Garza (born from a then undocumented immigrant mother) who is on track to be the first member of his family to complete high school. These four men all share one common goal of wanting to be in the political world.
In the time of the crowded documentary, “Boys State” is one that really stands out. It’s the type of film that thrives on the connections by the filmmakers to make their audience sympathize with these young men. All of them have similar hopes and aspirations, but all come from different walks of life. Some of the best cinema is that which gives us perspective through the eyes of those we least expect. When they’re individuals as compelling as these, it really doesn’t matter what the subject is. Even if you’re not a fan of politics, I can guarantee that you’ll be a fan of the boys in “Boys State."