In the movie “Radical,” poverty casts a dark shadow over a struggling Mexican elementary school, but hope emerges through the heartfelt performance of Eugenio Derbez. Derbez embodies Sergio Juarez, a real-life educator determined to make a difference at Jose Urbina Lopez Elementary in Matamoros, despite its lack of resources and dire conditions. The film delves deep into the challenges faced by the students and explores why they struggle to overcome their circumstances.
While the theme of an unconventional teacher inspiring students is familiar, “Radical” takes a unique approach by delving into the complexities of the students’ lives outside the classroom. Derbez’s portrayal of Sergio, a teacher who encourages his students to love learning rather than obsessing over standardized tests, is both sincere and captivating. He navigates the film entirely in Spanish, captivating English-speaking audiences without the need for subtitles, showcasing his decades of experience in the Mexican film industry.
The supporting cast, primarily composed of young talents like Danilo Guardiola, Mía Fernanda Solis, and Jennifer Trejo, shines as they portray students grappling with obstacles beyond their control. Niko, the class clown, battles ties to a neighborhood gang, Lupe dreams of intellectual debates but faces the threat of leaving school to care for her siblings, and Paloma balances her scientific aspirations with her father’s illness.
“Radical” expertly balances the students’ reluctance to pursue education with Sergio’s positive influence on their lives. While the film occasionally teeters on the edge of feel-good clichés, Christopher Zalla’s script and direction, guided by the real events documented in the WIRED article by Joshua Davis, prevent it from becoming overly sentimental. Tragedy and triumph interweave throughout the film, although the conclusion may lack a lingering impact.
Despite its minor flaws, the film’s strength lies in Derbez’s sensitive portrayal and his heartfelt interactions with each student. Sergio’s ability to ignite genuine excitement for education by tapping into each child’s unique interests resonates deeply. Despite the film’s occasional missteps, viewers are left with a profound sense of protectiveness and pride for Sergio and his resilient students. “Radical” stands as a testament to the power of hope and determination in the face of adversity.