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RADICAL (2023)

Release Date: 11/03/23 [Cinemas]
Genre: Drama.

Studio: Miercoles Entertainment.

"A teacher in a Mexican border town full of neglect, corruption, and violence, tries a radical new method to unlock their students' curiosity, potential - and maybe even their genius." 


Radical is conventional and predictable but there’s something endearing and optimistic about the characters that makes it a tearjerker. It’s based on the true story of Sergio (Eugenio Derbez), a teacher who goes to work at a school that serves an impoverished area of Mexico. At the beginning of the movie we get a snippet of a few of the students’ lives. 


There’s Paloma (Jennifer Trejo), a shy, whip-smart girl who lives next to a trash dump with her ailing father (Gilberto Barraza). She befriends fellow young sixth grader Nico (Danilo Guardiola) who lives in a shack by the beach with his older brother. He’s dancing on the edge of joining a local gang with his older sibling, viewing school as a waste of time. And then there’s Lupe (Mia Fernanda Solis) who is basically a mother to her two younger siblings while her mother works the night shift. 


On the first day of class, Sergio immediately makes an impression on the students. He rearranges the classroom and pretends the floor is water and tells the students the flipped tables are lifeboats. A math game ensues as the kids must figure out how to save every member of the class without sinking the boats. This exercise leads to a host of other questions, like how do boats even float in the first place? Sergio enthusiastically lets the class’ curiosity lead the direction of the material they study. This unconventional method ruffles more than a few feathers from fellow faculty. 


The idealistic nature of Sergio clashes with the very difficult real-world situations his students find themselves in. What Radical does so well is expose how complex school is for kids whose lives outside of the classroom are often chaotic. Any sixth grader who has absentee or sick parents or who is being asked to parent younger siblings probably isn’t all that interested in fractions. The duality of the situation is displayed effectively when the hope and curiosity that consumes the kids is squashed by the adults around them who have had to deal with painful reality for too long to have any hope left. 


Derbez gives a nuanced performance that will make you love Sergio. But he’s helped immensely by the ensemble around him. The kids in particular are so compelling, with earnest faces that want to believe that change can happen coupled with a crushing reality of their poverty-stricken situations. When Fernanda Solis’ character is told she won’t be going back to school, the look of defeat on her face is so powerful you want to reach through the screen and hug her. 


Writer and director Christopher Zalla doesn’t pull any punches, giving us a straight-forward narrative and typical stylistic choices. And at times he gets bogged down by the sentimentality of his idealistic protagonist, but the performances from the cast and the hopeful thematic tones will win over any audience lucky enough to catch this film.

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