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Get Ready for the High School ‘Prom’

Walt Disney Pictures' new coming-of-age comedy is about one of the most memorable nights in adolescent life, the prom.

For a guy in his 30s doing research for a film, going to prom was surprisingly fun. “I didn’t know how much I loved prom until I went to five of them this year,” jokes Joe Nussbaum, who is director of his own “Prom,” Walt Disney Pictures’ new coming-of-age comedy. “It’s such an amazingly good feeling.

“We walked into a lot of high schools to scout locations, and it can make you feel unnerve,” Nussbaum adds. “You remember it all: the stress, you see kids arguing, or someone walking down the hall looking lonely. And that all comes rushing back. It’s not pleasant visiting high school as an adult, and I thought prom would be the same sort of thing. But it wasn’t.”

Though the movie is a lighthearted story, complete with standard high school character archetypes of geeks, preps and jocks, Nussbaum wanted to capture the intensity of emotion that comes from one of the most memorable (or notorious) nights in adolescent life.

Aimee Teegarden (TV’s “Friday Night Lights”) stars as the know-it-all good girl who runs the prom committee and finds herself drawn to a guy who couldn’t care less about it (newcomer Thomas McDonell). “It’s set in your head when you’re a little kid — prom is that defining moment, when you get to look back on your school career and have a moment just for yourself,” she says.

One thing the movie tries to do differently is show the mingling among cliques. They aren’t as separate as some teen films would suggest. “What I like about this movie is it’s a little more real in that sense,” Adler says. “The offbeat character sometimes is friends with the straight-A people.”

Teegarden is definitely one of the latter, playing teacher’s pet Nova Prescott, who finds herself stuck working with bitter outsider Jesse Richter (McDonell) after he gets blamed for a fire. “Nova is the person you all knew would be a politician when she grows up, or run a Fortune 500 company,” Teegarden says. In other words, she’s not someone very open to the unexpected.

It’s almost impossible to live up to the expectations of a prom, Teegarden says. But everyone tries.

“High school elevates all the highs and lows in life,” Nussbaum says. “Everything is a big deal. It’s supercharged emotionally.”

“It’s kind of like a wedding day,” Teegarden adds.

Nussbaum agrees: “You put ‘wedding’ in front of any other word and it takes on a much different meaning. Prom is the same way. There’s a dress, and then there’s your prom dress, and you’re supposed to go shopping for it four times, and pick it out with your mom and friends, and you’ll remember it forever.”

Though it’s a Disney movie, it’s not all sunshine and cheer. Nussbaum says he wants to explore the pressures of being that age, too. It’s what separates a kiddie high school movie from something that touches even with those who aren’t kids anymore.

He witnessed that stress firsthand on his five excursions to study local proms. “I was walking by a table where this girl was just bawling her eyes out,” Nussbaum says, though he had no idea what had gone wrong.

“She was like, ‘I planned for this for soooo loooong!’ She really did. And that’s what gives it so much importance, and hopefully that’s what will make the movie resonate.”

Opening soon across the Philippines, “Prom” is distributed by Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures International through Columbia Pictures.

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