Three summers ago in Austin, a thousand or so rising high school seniors participating in a mock legislature for youth leaders made national headlines, voting to secede from the Union. It was, of course, a toothless vote, made during an annual gathering known as Boys State, one of many such programs for precocious male adolescents run by the American Legion in nearly every state, along with its sister organization Girls State.
Nevertheless, documentarians Amanda McBaine and Jesse Moss thought that development — entirely theoretical but perhaps telling about some disturbance in the zeitgeist — was interesting. The very next year, they arranged to make a fly-on-the-wall documentary, “Boys State,” about the 2018 Texas assembly. Centering on the campaigns of two fake political parties, Federalists and Nationalists, and the subsequent, culminating election, the film presents a camplike atmosphere that turns out to be, in some ways, not that different from what you might expect: a bit of rowdiness/silliness — someone floats an abortive party platform banning cargo shorts — mostly conservative, lots of talk about gun rights, and an overlay of nerdy intensity that swings between endearing and grating.