In Radical, Eugenio Derbez (CODA, The Valet) goes to the head of the class as Sergio Juarez, the new sixth-grade teacher at José Urbina López Elementary in Matamoros, Mexico, one of the worst-performing, and ridiculously underfunded, schools in the country. Directed by Christopher Zalla (Sangre de Mi Sangre), Radical follows a true story that was covered in an article by Wired reporter Joshua Davis about the teacher and his students.
It was the 2023 Sundance Film Festival opening night feature.
One of the students we meet in the film lives near a landfill, which she searches daily for items to sell to help her and her father survive; one is continually pressured to leave school to join a gang; and one is charged with being the primary caregiver for her younger siblings. Juarez sees potential in all of them and employs an unorthodox method to bring it out, which, seemingly, won’t help the school achieve its goal of increasing its low assessment scores: teaching the kids to be freethinkers and allowing them to dictate their own lesson plans.
Derbez’s comedic chops come in handy as we’re treated to lighthearted, corny class scenes, including a humorous lesson on mass, volume and density and another on division, which are quickly juxtaposed by reminders of how seemingly inescapable the children’s living situations are, despite their hopes and dreams for the future. Amid all this, Radical also makes a striking commentary on corruption in the school system.
While glorifying teaching, above all, the film also shines a light on the bright minds in the class, and, despite the bleak situation, shows that hope can be found in unlikely places.
If you don’t see Radical at this year’s Sundance Film Festival, you’ll surely have more opportunities.
Radical screens again on Jan. 23 at the Broadway Centre Cinemas in SLC, Jan. 24 and 25 at the Library Center Theatre in Park City, Jan. 28 at the Holiday Village Cinemas in Park City, and Jan. 29 at the Rose Wagner Center in SLC. Visit the Sundance Film Fest website for more info.