By Mark Saldana
Rating: 3.5 (Out of 4 Stars)
Now available for viewing via AppleTV + is a film that gives its audiences an astute, critical look at U.S. politics through the ambitious eyes of our youth. The documentary focuses on a long-running program run by The American Legion and The American Legion Auxiliary. In each state of the U.S., the Boys State summer programs allow a group of specially selected teen boys to gather together for the purposes of forming a mock state government. In doing so, some boys are selected for certain jobs while others must campaign and earn the votes of their peers. The purposes of this program are to allow our nation’s youth to practically apply what they have learned in history and government classes, and to hone their leadership, socialization, and public speaking skills.
Directors Jesse Moss and Amanda McBaine have selected the 2018 Boys State class of Texas. Now, considering that Texas is very much a “red state,” most of the young men in attendance claim to be very politically Conservative with a few excerptions in the large group. As the boys dive right into their exercises and mock government work, Moss and McBaine mostly focus their film on a few key characters and the main campaign of the summer camp–the race for governor. As this particular race heats up, some of the players perform admirably while others resort to dirty mud-slinging.
I very much enjoyed this film. As I immersed myself into this unusual, but nevertheless, fascinating summer camp, I definitely connected with some of the characters. I also came to the realization that most of the boys weren’t really learning anything new. They were simply imitating the good and bad practices of our country’s leaders/politicians. That is not to say that I feel that the Boys State program is a totally bad program. However, it is a program in need of some improvement and stronger guidance. This commentary on the program and on the nation’s political system is definitely the strength of the film. We the people of the United States of America are in need of some major changes regarding our system and it is obviously reflecting on our future leaders.
Now, I realize that the Boys State program seems pretty fast-paced with a lot of different things happening, almost all at once, but Jesse Moss and Amanda McBaine manage to cover a lot of ground in a limited amount of time. That said, I did feel that one of the major players does get slighted a little. The audience barely gets to know one of the gubernatorial candidates in the running. Considering that this is the key race of the camp, I was rather surprised that he gets so little coverage. It is quite possible that his footage is the least interesting when considering some of the great personalities highlighted in the documentary, but the filmmakers should at least let the audience get to know this “major player,” given the level of the competition.
That really is my only complaint about this otherwise remarkable documentary. While the film shows that our approach to politics and the party system is in need of much improvement, it also offers some rays of hope that some future public servants will rise above the ugly aspects of political competition. It is a compelling film with intriguing characters whose motives and decisions reflect the stark realities of American politics.