Sundance Review: BOYS STATE - So Good It Will Almost Make You Like Republicans
You’d think a film about a bunch of young, highly ambitious Republicans working together to build and elect their own fake government would be an exercise in annoyance and pessimism. Somehow Boys State manages to defy that. Despite a host of minor caveats, it’s difficult not to fall head over heels for these kids and get some hope for the future in the process. Having said that, I would prefer to never meet any of them in person and our anti-progressive half of the country is not going anywhere soon. But there is a weird version of hope on display here. If nothing else, Boys State offers an argument against everything going the way of Idiocracy.
I had never heard of the Boys State program before seeing this film. Its prologue makes me feel like I must have gone wrong at some point because the program seems fairly ubiquitous, as well as home to some pretty big future political names. And not all of them are psychos! Russ Limbaugh and Dick Cheney were Boys Staters but so were Bill Clinton and Cory Booker.
The idea is interesting and I shall poorly summarize it forthwith: Boys State is a kind of camp where six hundred kids are divided into two opposing political parties. They must run for government position, the highest of which is governor, who unites both parties and requires a primary. They don’t actually do much governing. This is telling because the exercise’s premise is therefor more about the art of politics than law, the less honorable of the two things. But I suppose if you want to change the world, you have to be good at both.
They do have to come up with a party platform however, which is one part of the idea that perplexed me. If they are all essentially right wing youngsters, how different can the opposing parties be? It turns out, not much. The only discrepancy displayed in this film involves a controversy over universal background checks for guns. They basically agree with the rest of whatever Fox News told their parents to believe, so there isn’t much ideological range to their campaigns.
Except one-on-one, they might actually be budding Democrats. It turns out, if you take one of these kids away from their mob, their views become a lot more nuanced and even progressive. Some are clearly faking their right wing rhetoric, some are just one great girlfriend away from being set straight, and some are just going with the group mentality. This is both warming and - given that political parties are never going to change - a massive bummer. But that’s how I feel about a lot of Boys State.
I’m being overly facetious. I am also doing a poor job describing what a joy this film is to watch. I hate to tell you this, but you will fall in love with the kids highlighted by the film (keep in mind there are like 594 who don’t get much screen time). Some you are supposed to fall in love with, a couple you cannot help liking despite their sneaky business, and one shiny doofus whose DnD chart is all charm, zero strategy.
The film is, above all, hilarious. It would be much harder to watch were it not for the massive laughs it offers throughout. This comes from jaw-dropping zingers and air-headed reminders of how young these young adults really are, to not one but two talent show montages for the ages.
Boys State offers the full package. You will laugh a lot, but you will also get caught up emotionally and shed some tears. It will also give you a lot to think about regarding our country’s current state and where we might go in the years to come. It’s hopeful, but realistically so, in a way that feels incredibly rare and valuable. I absolutely adore the film and can’t wait for more people to see it and make a star out of Rene Otero. You don’t know who that is right now, but trust me, you will.