A24 has quickly become my favorite studio. Over the last few years, they’ve given me some of my favorite movies of the year: Good Time and Lady Bird were my top two films of 2017. A24 also gave us the terrific First Reformed, Disaster Artist, Room, Green Room, Waves, and the great documentary Amy. And I sat down to watch another great documentary, after getting some food delivered (ah, the joys of watching movies without the theatre popcorn and nachos).
I knew nothing about the Boys State programs run in various states. The opening montage showed us that people like Corey Booker, Rush Limbaugh, and Dick Cheney have all been a part of that program.
This documentary focuses on the 1,100 teenagers in Texas for the week-long government system, which is sponsored by the American Legion.
Watching what documentary filmmakers Amanda McBaine and Jesse Moss put together is both highly entertaining, humorous, interesting, and sometimes scary. This is the future of politics, folks.
The guys are separated into two parties — Nationalists and Federalists. I immediately started thinking this was going to turn into Lord of the Flies meets Pyle from Full Metal Jacket. The guys start discussing platforms and topics. We get a lot of conversations about gun rights, abortion, and immigration (which makes you feel bad for the quiet Mexican member of the mostly white, conservative group). And that makes it interesting when the biggest bro of the group — a good looking white kid with a slight southern accent — talks about whether it’s too crude to have a speech about whipping out a tape measure and whipping out his…well, you get the point. Then when we find out he secretly feels a different way about a topic but knows it won’t be the popular opinion, he smartly states — hey, that’s politics and I don’t want to reveal my opinion if it’s an unpopular one. His name is Rob McDougall. We also follow around three other interesting personalities. Ben Feinstein, a double-amputee with a bedroom full of Reagan dolls, is a political junkie. We watch as one kid asks, “Why do you walk funny?” He replies, “I don’t have legs.”
Rene Otero is an African-American from Chicago, who wears an earring and might be gay. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. Especially since he wins a nomination. Well, that’s before there’s a movement to impeach him. He gleefully talks about the left-leaning T-shirts he brought to the event to try and provoke folks.
You feel bad for the quiet Steven Garza. His parents are undocumented immigrants, and the American Legion are surprised they don’t show up to see their boy off. He’s rather earnest, but you get the feeling he’s in over his head with this group. He’s easily the one the viewers are going to root for in this lot.
In terms of the takes these kids have on various issues, you just kind of roll your eyes. Half of the time, they sound moronic. And we realize that these guys have half-baked ideas on topics and 95% of them have absorbed the ideas spouted off by their parents.
Oh, and all this politics and you get a talent show, to boot.
This reminded me of Spellbound, the best documentary of 2002 (and one of the best documentaries ever made). That followed eight competitors of the National Spelling Bee in D.C. (also including the son of illegal immigrant parents).
While this documentary isn’t as good, it’s very compelling.
It gets 4 stars out of 5, and you can catch it on Apple TV+ this weekend.