Boys State: Glimpse of a bigger picture

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Steven Garza is shown in the 2020 documentary Boys State. Photo: CNS photo/courtesy A24 Films
Steven Garza is shown in the 2020 documentary Boys State. Photo: CNS photo/courtesy A24 Films

Thanks to Spencer Tracy and Mickey Rooney, many know about Boys Town. But Boys State (A24/Apple)?

That’s the name of an annual week-long gathering, sponsored by the American Legion (a veterans’ organisation), in which participating lads have the chance to immerse themselves in realistic political rituals and form a mock state government.

It’s also the title of a lively documentary that tracks four Texas teens as they experience this hands-on educational process.

The most powerful office for which elections are held in Boys State is, of course, that of governor.

But, behind the scenes, selection as the chair of one of the two fictional political parties, the Federalists and the Nationalists, also is a prestigious, much-coveted achievement.

The contest for the Nationalist Party nomination as governor pits gentle, modest Steven Garza against Robert MacDougall, a Big Man on Campus straight from central casting.

The latter’s principal strategy is to appeal to the rowdiness of the crowds he addresses.

Steven is an idealist whose liberal views are out-of-step with the predominately red-state electorate.

Robert stoutly puts forward a conservative and pro-life program, though he turns out to be something of a sharp operator.

The other principal rivalry – and contrast – is that between the two party chairmen, Ben Feinstein of the Federalists and Rene Otero of the Nationalists.

A meningitis survivor who lost both legs to the disease at age three, Ben is a hard-driving fan of Ronald Reagan unlikely to let any obstacle stand in his way.

Rene is equally energetic and vaults to the head of the pack with an impassioned, eloquent speech on behalf of his own candidacy.

In an accurate reflection of the tensions that underlie the system of government about which the students are learning, the campaigning and platform writing eventually lead to some hardball last-minute manoeuvring.

Boys State thus sustains the kind of suspenseful interest that attends a close-run race in the real world.

Co-directors and spouses Jesse Moss and Amanda McBaine’s study of the temporary subculture on which they focus is rich in interesting characters and valuable insights.

As a result, at least some parents may consider their movie acceptable for older adolescents, despite the elements listed below.

The film contains mature themes, including legal abortion, a couple of rough terms, a single crude expression and a few mild oaths.

Some material may be inappropriate for children under 13.

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