The Barack Pack

Movieman John Hughes couldn’t have scripted it better.  The Democratic National Convention in Denver was the teen comedy we’d been waiting for all summer. With Judd Apatow’s Pineapple Express skewing a little older, and Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants 2 skewing a little, um, younger, among other things, the DNC was the perfect answer to our collective movie blues and the kind of brilliantly accurate depiction of high school drama that recalls such memorable chef d’oeuvres as The Breakfast Club, Sixteen Candles and Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.

For anyone nostalgic for the angst-ridden, sigh-filled, eyeroll-inducing diorama of drama that is the typical high school experience, the DNC absolutely delivered.

It was the story of an average American high school in Any Town, USA, and all of the usual politics that are played out by a colorful cast of misfits and mean girls, jocks and geeks, necessary to any teen comedy worthy of consideration in the Hughesian cannon.

It’s the story of the engaging and mysterious new kid named Barry, who seemed to come out of no where and make friends instantly — not always the right kind of friends, but still, his meteoric rise from “zero to hero” would make you wonder if he used his lawn mowing money to pay for his newfound status.

And there was his pretty cheerleader girlfriend Michelle, who turned heads and dropped jaws, not just because her clothes were, like, soooo awesome, but because she spoke her mind and sometimes said the wrong thing to the wrong person. You know how gossip can spread.

These two square off against the school’s longtime favorite couple, Billy, the Big Man On Campus, and his equally ambitious girlfriend Hillary, whose long reign as Miss Popular has for the first time been threatened. The “Hill + Bill 4ever” carvings on the old tree behind the gym are starting to fade, and Homecoming is approaching. They’re not above being catty to hold on to their crowns. They start rumors, they backstab, they say he doesn’t deserve to be, like, this popular.

Meanwhile, for comic relief, there’s the class bully, Joey B, a rough-around-the-edges blue-collar kid from the wrong side of the tracks, whose bark is actually louder than his bite. In a familiar story arc, he hated the aloof new kid at first, stole his lunch money and delivered atomic wedgies — but as fickle high school politics would have it, Joey B’s life is infinitely easier if he makes nice with Barry. And so he does. Awkwardly.

There’s the obnoxious know-it-all, Al, who won’t shut up about all the vaguely relevant science awards he’s won.

And there’s sweet little Caroline — Miss Congeniality, if you read the yearbook superlatives — with her constant companion and old family friend Teddy, the school’s well-liked mascot who’s seen his share of the principal’s office.

And once in a while these captivating kids have to deal with lame and out-of-touch faculty who don’t know they’re not actually cool.

There’s the out-of-it history teacher Mr. Carter, who talks like it’s still the 60s and sometimes forgets where he is. There’s Coach Dean, who screams and hollers at the struggling football team from the sidelines and at the student body during pep rallies, like he’s mimicking Knute Rockne. “We’re going to go to Washington High School, St Francis Prep, Carver High School and Kennedy High School! We’re going to win all-county! And then all-state! WOOHOO!”

And the whole thing culminates with Homecoming, the dramatic “big game” at the football stadium in the middle of town. There’s the usual halftime show, with Sheryl the eco-friendly hippy strumming her guitar and Mr. McDonald, the graying music teacher who swears he was once cool. The cheerleaders are there in their shortest skirts and tightest sweaters to make their team look hot by proximity. The decorations committee went all out — streamers, glitter-soaked posters, balloons and the works, and everyone is there to see two things happen: the football team wins, and Barry and Michelle crowned Homecoming King and Queen. Well, almost everyone.

Tension builds as Hill and Billy squirm in their seats, dressed to the nines and eager to retain their standing and rule the school. But in a last-minute twist, they’re tipped off by a rogue cheerleader that the Homecoming titles are going to the new guys. So to avoid the shame and embarrassment that is sure to come, they (somewhat) graciously withdraw their names, and bestow upon Barry and Michelle the crowns the newcomers campaigned so hard far, handing out countless cupcakes and buttons, and charming anyone who would pay attention.

Light fills the stadium and the night sky. There’s music, there are fireworks, there’s dancing, there are hokey video montages that still manage to pull at your heart strings, even if you know full well how overly-produced they are. And of course, there are acceptance speeches, which are delivered to the kind of fanatical and jubilant reception that only the most popular kids in school can drum up. Barry and Michelle leave infinitely pleased with themselves and their rise to high school stardom, while Hill and Bill leave dejected, bitter, and wondering what went wrong.

And at the end, you understand that life for these high school kids will go on. There will be more drama, more infighting, more catty bickering, more cafeteria shenanigans, more hook-ups and break-ups. And in classic John Hughes form, it will all end with a passionate kiss, a catchy song, and the roll of credits. You will leave totally entertained and satisfied, and in it you will have seen countless reminders of why you hated high school…and why you loved it. You’ll have a good stretch as you leave the theater, share a knowing smile with your movie date, and say, “That was fun. Now where’s the restroom?”