In 2014, the summer before my senior year, I attended Missouri Boys State. It is an annual, week-long camp for boys that are between their junior and senior years in high school. Boys from all over the state met at one of the state’s universities. Throughout the week, we were tasked with building our own government, electing our representatives, creating laws, and ultimately voting on a governor. I remember the week being fun, albeit kind of exhausting. But it was nothing compared to what happened at Texas Boys State during the summer of 2018.
That’s the backdrop for this fascinating documentary, Boys State. During one week in June 2018, Texas Boys State commenced & unlike other years, it was filmed. Taking on the task of filming over a thousand high school boys and then try to make it into a narrative feature is a monumental task. Directors Amanda McBlaine and Jesse Moss are more than up to it though.
McBlaine & Moss choose the path of picking a few individuals and focusing on them. A decision that ultimately makes the movie. Although a film about Boys State, in general, would still be good. Having such a focus on a few young men is what takes the film from good to great. This, in itself, was a risk.
If any of the four leads were shy, less ambitious, less vulnerable, the film would have lost some of its best material. Luckily, the four men that they focus on – Steven, Ben, René, and Robert – are captivating subjects.
Robert is the charismatic, political outsider who just wants to be liked. He reveals throughout the film that he does not even agree with some of his public stances. He knows that most of the guys at Boys State do & he is catering to them. René is the savvy political consultant. Keeping up on what voters are thinking, controversies brewing, weak spots to exploit, etc.
Then we have the two nominees for Governor: Steven is an optimist, hoping to do the best that he can for the most amount of people that he can. Ben is a bit of a cynic. His goal – as portrayed in the film, not necessarily in life – is to win at all costs. The two could not be more different in their beliefs or in their approaches to winning the mock election. It is impossible to watch without thinking about our current political climate and the ways in which politicians campaign for our votes every Election Day.
These Children are Our Future
It is because of these real life comparisons that Boys State is so engaging. The politicians are just high school boys, the elections are fake, the government is only in place for a week, but the ways in which the exercise perfectly encapsulates our nation is very, very real.
Watching Boys State, I found myself overcome with emotions. I was happy, I was frustrated, I was confused, I was amazed… most importantly though, I found myself almost in a perfect balance of feeling both optimistic and terrified for our future. These young men will be our leaders one day. These boys who make laws just because they think they are funny. The boys who will lie, cheat, & steal if it means they come out on top. The same boys who want to offer help, resources, and care to those in need.
Boys State is the perfect movie for our time. It is enthralling from beginning to end. The film builds you up, tears you down, then builds you back up again. It is amazing how a fake election, comprised of high school boys, from 2018 can feel so real and so consequential. And then you remember, in a way, it is. This is our future. We can only hope that there are enough Steven Garzas out there in the world to help us move forward.