Thursday, August 13, 2020

Boys State Review: The Kids Are Alright


Release date: August 14, 2020
Running time: 109 minutes

The winner of the Grand Jury Prize for documentary at this year's Sundance Film Festival, “Boys State” is an entertaining and revealing immersion into a week-long annual program in which a thousand Texas high school seniors gather for an elaborate mock exercise: building their own state government.  The film closely tracks the candidates in this camp government, and the escalating tensions that seem to be inevitable in politics today.  In the process, they have created a complex portrait of contemporary American masculinity, as well as a microcosm of our often dispiriting national political divisions that nevertheless manages to plant seeds of hope.

Boys State spends a lot of time with the actual stars of the documentary, the young men who are hoping to build a government and find consensus in this camp.  They follow some very interesting and accomplished young men--many of whom have very different backgrounds and beliefs.  Teenagers like B
en, a Reagan-loving arch-conservative who brims with confidence despite personal setbacks, and Steven, a progressive-minded child of Mexican immigrants who stands by his convictions amidst the sea of red.  The boys are divided into two parties, who push their own candidates up to the various races, chief among them the gubernatorial race.  These candidates must make it out of their own primaries, including the potential for run-off elections, and then pit themselves against each other for the final political office.  The documentary is well shot and provides great insight into the camp, the process, and the individuals participating.  Background and interviews are displayed for key members and you really get a sense of who these young men are and where they came from.  And the whole process of this week long camp is documented meticulously and entertainingly.  

As you would expect in any political adventure, there is muckraking, infighting, dirty tricks, and claims of bias.  But what this also shows is that despite this setup, there are those who will stick to their morals and try to rise above it all.  There are glimmers of hope when you see individuals who might not agree on issues find some common ground or at least leave the discussion with a measure of cordiality and respect.  You get to see kids who are destined to be future stars of their political party and community perform well above what you would expect of someone their age.  And you also see the influence of social media and peer pressure even at this young age.  As one of the candidates said, they were hoping to find consensus on issues that adults have been fighting over for years.  And this film gives you a glimmer of hope that maybe the next generation just could do that.  

Boys State is a political microcosm, showing that the best and worst of politics exist even at the smallest level; but it also offers a glimmer of hope that the kids might in fact be ready for this challenge.

Watch it.
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