Anthony Breznican
April 29, 2011 AT 04:00 AM EDT

When Disney studio chairman Rich Ross said last year that the new film Prom, which hit theaters April 29 (see our review on page 52), aspired to the tradition of John Hughes and Cameron Crowe, there were plenty of doubts. Could the home of the ultrapeppy High School Musical franchise tell a grown-up story about growing up? Director Joe Nussbaum and screenwriter Katie Wech had obvious obstacles: no sex, no drugs, no booze. ”The guiding principle was: We’re not saying those things don’t happen. We’re just telling a different part of the story,” says Nussbaum. The movie became a relationship drama, following several couples and desperate singles (including Friday Night Lights‘ Aimee Teegarden and newcomer Thomas McDonell) as they careen awkwardly toward the big night. ”On set we called it Prom Actually,” Nussbaum jokes. Wech hopes the movie truthfully captures the darker but still PG-rated aspects of teen heartache and longing. ”Prom has a lot of happy associations for people, and also a lot of negatives,” she says. ”Trying to represent both honestly was the key to not becoming overly saccharine or sentimental.”

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