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Parents' Guide to

Boys State

By Tara McNamara, Common Sense Media Reviewer

age 13+

Teens make like political pros in insightful documentary.

Movie PG-13 2020 109 minutes
Boys State Poster Image

A Lot or a Little?

What you will—and won't—find in this movie.

Community Reviews

age 11+

Based on 2 parent reviews

age 9+
age 13+

Riveting documentary about politics, adolescence, and leadership

We watched this with our 15yo son and found it deeply compelling. Our son had to be reminded that the film is following real events and real people, not with scripts and actors -- he noted that this really added something in terms of the suspense and unpredictability. Like the participants, we didn't know how this would turn out and it's amazing to watch them deal with this uncertainty in their hopes, strategies, interactions. There's a lot that's predictably upsetting, but also much that is unexpectedly hopeful. The evolving reflections of the young people on what was going on adds an added layer of depth and discovery. Highly recommended.

Is It Any Good?

Our review:
Parents say (2 ):
Kids say (2 ):

Watching these teens vie for fake political power is a revelation about what's gone wrong in the modern U.S. government: It's like The War Room meets Model U.N. For starters, we see what the teens are picking up from their parents, the news, and their own political perusals. But while the American Legion's teen mock state legislature is fairly homogenous -- White, male, conservative ("I've never seen so many White people, ever," says René Otero, a Black attendee who wins the role of party chair with an intelligent speech but is quickly racially targeted for impeachment when he won't entertain the idea of Texas seceding from the union) -- filmmakers Jesse Moss and Amanda McBaine choose to follow subjects who are incredibly diverse on every level.

That said, since the film is all about politics, the core foursome includes two liberals and two conservatives. On the Republican side, there's athletic "guy's guy" Robert MacDougall, who campaigns on what's politically convenient: He's willing to win by supporting positions that he doesn't actually believe in. And charismatic Ben Feinstein is a die-hard politico whose "shock and awe" strategy would make Karl Rove proud and whose absent limbs don't negatively affect his ambition, success, or popularity. Realizing he's outnumbered, liberal Otero opts for political survival. And then there's Steven Garza, the heart and soul of Boys State. He's the hardworking, high-achieving kid of a single mother who was undocumented for a time, and he repeatedly demonstrates enviable political courage and integrity. Moss and McBaine never tell viewers what to think or what's right, but they let the events play out in a way that's shocking, fascinating, frightening, and hopeful. So while the elections and party of platforms of 2018's Texas Boys State have no power, the culminating events are powerful in their indication of what's going on in America.

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