‘Boys State’ Review

Toward the middle of the new documentary Boys State, Robert MacDougall, a young Texas teen who is running for Governor of the Boys State in Texas, makes a confession. “As to the political views in my speech voiced in my speech, those are not my own.” He explains that despite being pro-choice, MacDougall decided to say he was pro-life in order to win more conservative votes. “I’ve realized that sometimes you can’t win on what you believe in your heart… It’s a morally questionable thing to lie in politics… but getting here gave me a new appreciation for why politicians lie to get into office.”  

All of the boys profiled in the film are all good-hearted and serious young men, Robert included. None of them are intentionally evil, and many want the best for others around them. However, many of them respond to a political system in different and troubling ways. Robert’s embrace of lying is a careful moment and is part of what makes Boys State so compelling. It shows how politics incentivizes bad behavior, even if honesty can be rewarded. 

Robert’s embrace of lying is a careful moment and is part of what makes Boys State so compelling. It shows how politics incentivizes bad behavior, even if honesty can be rewarded. 

Boys State, which is available on Apple TV Plus, follows a Boys State conference in Texas. The annual conference gathers 1200 boys from across the state of Texas gather in the state capital to participate in a simulation of State government. The 1200 boys are split into two parties randomly, the Federalists and the Nationalists. In the weeklong conference, they create a platform and have people run for positions such as Governor, Lieutenant Governor, and Attorney General. 

The film profiles the conference and follows five boys in greater detail. Each of the boys the filmmakers focus on has an interesting story and a different earnest approach to politics that helps give the movie its soul. Whether it’s René’s struggles with learning from conservatives or Ben’s embrace of mudslinging politics, all of them develop a desire to win. It’s there where the film is at its most fascinating. 

The film is also smart enough to not get into the way of the subjects. It gives them time to speak and allows them to illuminate and guide the film. It never overshadows the interviews or tries to directly relate any of it to our current political situation. Boys State gives the viewer and the boys the room to make those connections. 

Watching how these boys grow and embrace certain political strategies is part of what makes this film so effective. On one side René and Steven Garza of the Nationalists party try to make the kids believe in something greater than themselves, while Ben and Eddy PC turn to the “Donald Trump playbook” to win. The decisions they make and how that affects their results are fascinating, and watching these boys learn from their decisions and mistakes is also really captivating. 

The film is also smart enough to not get into the way of the subjects. It gives them time to speak and allows them to illuminate and guide the film. It never overshadows the interviews or tries to directly relate any of it to our current political situation. Boys State gives the viewer and the boys the room to make those connections. 

While what happens at the conference is interesting, the individual stories are terrific. All of their focus subjects are interesting and their unique backgrounds make their decisions understandable. Steven’s passion and belief are resolute in everything he does, and his campaign ultimately helps him find his voice. Robert’s competitiveness gets in the way of his sense of right and wrong. Each of these boys navigating the political system they are in makes for some fascinating viewing. 

Toward the end of the film, René discusses his feelings toward Ben, the other campaign manager. A part of Ben’s winning strategy was to attack René as a biased campaign manager. The debasement was deliberate and initially upset René. As he spoke about it after the events of the conference, René made his peace with Ben. “I don’t hate the man. Never will. I think he is a fantastic politician. But I don’t think a fantastic politician is a compliment either.”

(Visited 97 times, 1 visits today)

About Noah Garfinkel

Noah is a Senior with a major in History and a minor in Chinese. He is currently the Editor-in-Chief for the Michigan Review and a member of the AEI Executive Council at Michigan. He is also a sprinter for The Michigan Running Club. In his free time he loves to read and play basketball.