On their first day sixth grade, the students of Jose Urbina Lopez Elementary School in the Mexican border city of Matamoros find their new teacher rolling on the floor surrounded by overturned desks.So begins Christopher Zalla’s “Radical,” an inspirational based-on-a-true-story drama about an unconventional teacher named Sergio Juarez Correa (Eugenio Derbez). His day-one lesson is ultimately about buoyancy. But the metaphor isn’t hard to grasp. In Lopez’s classroom, education is a life raft.
That makes for an especially unlikely backdrop for classroom revival. The school, itself, is known as “The School of Punishment.” For safety, its gates are locked during the school hours. Sergio’s self-empowering method is to allow kids to follow their curiosity and find answers for themselves. They’re skeptical at first but soon are engaged and excited by their freedom to lead their own learning. More than once, Sergio says the students don’t even really need him.
There are plenty of familiar beats as the school year moves along. Sergio’s ways draw the ire of other teachers. Parents are distrustful, wondering if he’s giving kids facing a harsh future false hope. But while “Radical,” an audience winner at the Sundance Film Festival, is formulaic in its approach, it gets enough out of it likable cast to earn at least a passing grade. headtopics.com
Their stories are never quite at the center of “Radical,” which sticks closest to its star teacher. But each young actor is natural, particularly Trejo. Her real-life character, Paloma Noyola Bueno, was the central figure in a Wired article that “Radical” is partially derived from.
But the best relationship captured in “Radical” is the one between Sergio and the school’s cautious, less energetic principal Chucho (a wonderful Daniel Haddad). He at first seems like an impediment to Sergio, warning him not to “kick the hornet’s nest.” But before long, he’s a co-conspirator, willing to — in a further experiment on buoyancy — cannonball into a cold tub. Together, Derbez and Haddad help make “Radical” float, too. headtopics.com