What's remarkable in Boys State, the newest film to join Apple TV+, is how many different and relevant areas of the current political climate play out during the duration of the film. Supposedly the filmmakers didn't know what would happen going in - though they may have known who would be accepted to this yearly mock government in Texas.
First, there is the jock who plays smarter than he seems. Then, a young black teen amongst the 'most white people I've ever seen'. Also, there is a quiet but smart and considerate boy who is a proud son of undocumented immigrants. Finally, we have a boy who's lack of legs, and a part of his right arm quickly shows you that's the least interesting thing about him. These are our main four 'characters'.
The back story is that every year, a couple of thousand boys are selected by a panel of military vets and educators to attend a week-long mock government. They are randomly divided into two groups, whereabouts they lobby for signatures to be put forward for various nominated roles which will run off against the opposing party on the last day. The most important is the Governor of 'Boys State'.
I have to admit, being British, a lot of the political processes were hard to adjust to, and indeed, some seemed utterly bonkers. However, it's chaotic, genuinely fascinating and frequently funny. But what the filmmakers do so well is create real depth to these 'characters'. My opinions of several of the boys changed over the course of the 100+ minutes runtime.
How much do you want to win and how much of yourself are you willing to give up?
They're savvy, self-aware - but not self-conscious - and often show political tactics (sometimes, underhand) that you expect from their adult counterparts.
Several things immediately become apparent. Firstly, how focused even young men at this age are on gun rights and abortion, which to me is such a complete non-starter. It was eye-opening to me as someone who always thought these opinions were mainly those of older or more religious people.
However, what stands out most is how political discussion and discourse can quickly be overtaken by partisanship and underhand tactics to secure votes.
Some of these tactics are very relevant in 2020 (filmed in 2018, a year and a half into Trump's presidency).
The person you are at the beginning of your political career/week can be very different from the person you are at the end of your career/week. How much do you want to win and how much of yourself and your original ideals are you willing to give up? Some in this film give up more than others, and it's interesting to see how those decisions all play out.
This film is Apple's first release as part of their deal with A24 and while not a blockbuster, really stands out for its clarity of focus, willingness to ask questions and pure entertainment value. Along with the big names they are bringing on board such as Martin Scorsese and Will Smith, acquiring more films like this will create a fascinating and diverse collection of movies.
Boys State is an excellent piece of filmmaking and even more vital as we approach probably the most crucial election in American history. After all, these boys will be making the political decisions in 10-15 years.