Boys State brilliantly illustrates how far our society has drifted from what makes the United States so unique. Where once we were a country based on ideals and compromise, which ultimately lead to a consensus, we are now driven by this need to win. The mark of an excellent documentary is one that impacts perception and shapes your path moving forward. For those who love to place blame on our current fractured world at the feet of this administration, Boys State shows audiences that this has been going on long before our current president was sworn in. Now, he certainly isn’t doing anything to bring us all together. The film makes a convincing case that this need to be right ideologically has been instilled in us for years. It’s not about what’s best for everyone but what’s best for me.
Boys State focuses on the yearly tradition where boys are selected from their local legion post to participate in a week-long mock exercise where they establish a state government. Filmmakers Jesse Moss and Amanda McBaine do a fantastic job capturing the week’s most intimate moments as then tension rise between the two fictitious parties. The primary focus in the documentary is on Ben, a Regan-loving conservative who projects confidence despite personal setbacks and Steven, a progressive-minded child of Mexican immigrants. We are treated to a compelling look at contemporary masculinity and a deep dive at the root of our divisions in America.
The most compelling element of the documentary is the contrast between Ben and Steven. Ben (who ends up being the party chairman for the Federalist Party) makes it quite clear that he is willing to compromise his own beliefs in the interest of his party. If it’s a lie, and overreaction, or even a hateful Instagram page, it doesn’t matter to him. It’s about being successful. In contrast, Steven doesn’t sway from who he is for the duration of the documentary, which doesn’t sit well with a mostly conservative crowd. However, his honesty is seeming to make a positive impact. The film asks the question if authenticity is valued the same as popularity. Can someone honest with his beliefs overcome an opponent that’s super popular? Also, what does that say about our political system? I won’t ruin this fantastic documentary. Just seek it out! You’ll see why this is one of the best documentaries this year.