An Interview and Review of A24’s Boys State

Caroline Reese ‘24 / Emertainment Monthly Staff Writer
Skyler Johnson ‘22 / Emertainment Monthly Comics Section Editor

Recently, we got the opportunity to watch and attend a conference for the documentary film, Boys State, out now on Apple TV. Here are our thoughts. 

The Movie

It’s hard to escape politics these days. Sometimes you just want to shut it off. However, that’s probably not the best thing for our democracy. That’s why you should watch Boys State

Boys State follows four participants, Robert, René, Steven, and Ben, in a Texas program of the same name where a group of teenage boys have to elect a legislative body. You get a lot of amazing characters, from Steven, the nice, soft-spoken liberal, to the charismatic Robert. The filmmakers did an excellent job of developing these characters throughout the film; you get to see the flaws and the strengths of everyone. René may be passionate and well spoken but has anger issues that he has to deal with. Despite the fact that everyone is different, there are plenty of times that the film highlights the boys’ similarities. They all enjoy politics, even if their opinions are different.

Photo courtesy of IMDb.

The editing is excellent. The run time is a little less then two hours but felt like maybe half an hour. No piece of uninteresting detail is left in. No speech or interview takes up too much time. Everything is cut perfectly.  

I think the best part about the film, however, was when they showed their development as characters. You know that this entire event occurs within a week, and it’s insane to see how these characters develop within that week. There were times where you could see that moment when someone either gained confidence, or gained perspective, which makes this documentary unique, because usually you don’t get that “aha” moment. Here, you do.

This movie is great for everyone becoming tired of politics, it demonstrates why you should care by showing young boys who care so much about the future of politics that you’re rooting for throughout the film.  

These are just a few of the things that make Boys State fascinating. If I were to go through every interesting plot and detail this review would be seven pages long. You should watch the film and see what you gain from it yourself. It’s bound to be something.

The Conference

It looked as if we were all part of The Brady Bunch theme song. Six pages of college students from all over the country. Every screen held a face I had never seen before, but collectively, we had all watched the same work of art: Boys State

Fifty college students sat in front of their laptops waiting to talk to directors Jesse Moss and Amanda McBaine, as well as subjects Steven, Robert and Ben, about their new film. Seeing their boxes pop up on the conference call was exciting, and their immediate presence lit up the space. Being that the film was shot two years ago, each of the boys had matured. You could tell, not only by how they looked, but by how they spoke, that they had done some living since the film. 

The directors were kind and insightful, and really took the time to explore many elements of the film that encompassed the hour and 49 minutes of life these boys got to experience in Texas. From the style of music chosen to underscore many scenes to selecting which boys were going to be the subject of the film, college students got many answers to their curious questions. 

One of my favorite things the directors brought up was the underlying racism René had to deal with during the week of ‘Boys State.’ They noted how well he dealt with the given situation when everyone wanted to impeach him as their party chairman. The film makers followed up by explaining this was not a storyline they were expecting to find nor include. Once they did start to see René shine and carry himself despite hateful words, they included this storyline as it began to mirror society today. 

René Otero and Ben Feinstein. Photo courtesy of IMDb.

The four boys of the film talked to the group a lot when the question was posed, “Did having a camera on you all of the time add a boost of nervousness or, opposite, confidence?” My favorite answer to that question was given by Ben: “My memories of ‘Boys State’ don’t have cameras in them.” Ben furthered this response by explaining to all of us that it only gave an added confidence boost. Steven spoke on this too, explaining how it lit a fire underneath them. His response to the question was, “We don’t know what Boys State is like without a camera.”  The directors aided in this question too by giving their side of the big picture. They told us, “I have to stress to you all how chaotic this event was.” The directors explained how they went into this not knowing exactly who they were going to be following the most. Once active relationships and roles within the boys began to form, “…interviews pulled them away from the politics and asked, ‘What are you going through?’” 

Towards the end, another hefty question was brought to the table in how a project like this was edited. “We had a five hour version we thought was amazing!” They told us that it took a single week to shoot and a year to cut. Choices had to be made in what was shown and which characters were going to get the most attention. The week itself was so jam packed with events that it would be impossible to fit them all into the documentary. A scene they did choose to include, however, was a special little one that led to my question.

Aside from the boys giving speeches and making platforms for themselves all day, they were also participating in a group talent show. Some may think it’s out of place, while others, like me, call that moment the best in the film. Ben’s response to why that scene made the final cut was beautiful: “The talent show was simply a visualization of a much broader theme of brotherhood and friendship that was there all the time.  When you put a thousand guys in an extremely stressful simulation and tell them that they have to work together to survive, that only enhances the sense of friendship and camaraderie that you’ll find at any summer camp experience.” He proceeds to say, “The talent show was the peak of that brotherhood and the connection that developed through the whole week.”

So many more thought-provoking questions were asked and every answer given by Jesse, Amanda or the boys led to a beautiful discussion. The conference itself was both insightful and inspiring, and it only makes you more excited to live in the world we do. 

Ultimately, the conference only strengthened the lesson the movie taught us: it’s important, more than ever, to care about politics. Steven, Robert, René, and Ben seem to care a hell of a lot, and we should too. Get out to the polls this November and use your voice. You have a say in the world we live in. Vote.

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