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“Boys State” Provides An Equally Powerful And Upsetting Look At The Potential Future Of Political Division

Politics is, without question, a dirty business. At all levels, the political machine brings out (sometimes) the best in humanity, as well as (oftentimes, sadly) the worst in people. The startling and uniquely consuming documentary Boys State gets this, and depicts it with really tremendous clarity. Looking at a longstanding social experiment, one that has good goals in mind, it’s a movie that will leave you both inspired and maybe even a little bit shaken. Now available to watch on Apple TV+, it’s not just one of the best streaming options this week, it’s the best option, overall. In fact, we may have an awards player on our hands, too.

The film is a documentary, detailing the thousand 17-year-old boys from Texas who are a part of Boys State, an American Legion program to let teens build their own government. The boys join together to build a representative government from the ground up (girls do their own in a separate Girls State program). We watch as a number of boys go out for specific offices, with the biggest one being the race for Governor. There are liberal voices and conservative voices, though more of the latter, as well as candidates looking to be better than our actual politicians, including one potential Governor who may remind some of a young Beto O’Rourke. At the same time, there are those who are not above mud-slinging and underhanded dirty tricks in their campaign. Not only a coming of age story for these boys, it’s a powerful look at how even imagined power can corrupt. Amanda McBaine and Jesse Moss co-direct here, with cinematography from Thorsten Thielow, while T. Griffin handles the music.

Equal parts observational experiment and insight into how far people will go for power, these teens are a microcosm of Texas, as well as America on the whole. The ideological divide is there, as well as some of our better angels, as well. There’s irony to be found in certain elements (for example, the organization does play Bruce Springsteen’s protest song Born in the USA while primary voting is going on), as well as all of the political machinations that go on in actual electoral campaigns. Amanda McBaine and Jesse Moss let this all play out with no judgment whatsoever, letting the words and actions of these boys (and potential future leaders) speak for themselves.

Boys State might also prove to be an Oscar contender, when all is said and done, though obviously that’s a long way off. Apple TV+ is hoping to make a dent in the awards season, and while Apple will truly enter the race in a few years with Martin Scorsese’s Killers of the Flower Moon, contention here for this flick in the Best Documentary Feature category would be a strong first step. The field is still very much in flux, but quality wise, this doc has got the goods, no question about that. It’ll just be a matter of it getting in front of voters in a notable way. Time will tell there.

Out today on Apple TV+, Boys State is a documentary that any political junkie should immediately seek out. It presents an experiment that has developed future leaders for decades, and likely will continue to do so for years to come. Even beyond that, simply as a depiction of human nature, it’s absolutely fascinating. Give it a look and see for yourself. This is one of the year’s best documentaries so far, bar none. Don’t miss it.

Be sure to check out Boys State, available this weekend on Apple TV+!

(Photos courtesy of Apple TV+)

About Joey Magidson

A graduate of Stony Brook University (where he studied Cinema and Cultural Studies), resides in Brooklyn, New York. He contributes to several other film-related websites and is a member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association.

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