Radical (2023) – Review

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Christopher Zalla and Eugenio Derbez’s “Radical” is based on a true story, but it’s a story audiences have seen plenty of times.


“Radical” General Information

Director Christopher Zalla
Screenplay By Christopher Zalla and Joshua Davis
Based On “A Radical Way of Unleashing a Generation of Geniuses” article by Joshua Davis
Date Released (In Theaters) November 3, 2023
Genre(s) Drama
Non-English (Spanish)
Film Length 2 Hours, 5 Minutes
Content Rating Rated PG-13
Noted Characters and Cast
Sergio Eugenio Derbez
Principal Chucho Daniel Haddad
Niko Danilo Guardiola Escobar
Lupe Mia Fernanda Solis
Paloma Jennifer Trejo

Content Rating Explanation

“Radical” is rated PG-13 due to gang violence, gun violence, and some profanity.

“Radical” Film Summary

This content contains pertinent spoilers. Also, images and text in this post may contain affiliate links. If a purchase is made from those sites, we may earn money or products from the company.

If you work in education, “Radical” may not be as radical as the movie thinks it is. The Mexican drama about a teacher allowing students to guide their own education is based on a Wired article published 10 years ago, and since then, more and more schools have opened up to this idea. In 2023, Christopher Zalla’s teacher tale is meant to inspire while warming hearts and jerking tears. Viewers might fully be swept by the conventional story in “Radical,” but those in education might yawn or find the story frustrating. 

“Radical” takes place in Matamoros, Tamaulipas, in 2011. Matamoros is a town overrun by gang violence. The elementary school, Jose Urbina Lopez Elementary, feels just as hopeless. The school has few resources, is focused strictly on test scores, and is known as a place of punishment. When Sergio (Eugenio Derbez), a giving and innovative teacher, comes to the elementary school, he’s determined to change the lives of his sixth graders. He does this by allowing students to leave their desks, run around, play, and guide their own interests and curiosities. Three students in particular, Niko (Danilo Guardiola Escobar), Lupe (Mia Fernanda Solis), and Paloma (Jennifer Trejo), have tremendous potential but also have their education and futures at risk due to forces outside of school. 

Sergio receives pushback from parents, faculty, and the school’s principal, Chucho (Daniel Haddad). But Sergio persists through the criticism for the sake of his students. In the end, Sergio understands he’s risking his own livelihood and safety to protect the students in and outside his class. 

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The drama and pathos in “Radical” feel simultaneously earnest and manufactured. While the story of a tireless teacher helping disadvantaged students has been told countless times, it’s also true. Writer and director Christopher Zalla keeps the story grounded in muted colors and authentic performances, but the writing can be filled with tropes and heady monologues. You may be able to predict where the story goes, but your heart still aches and swells for all the characters. 

Other Noteworthy Information

  1. “Radical” is based on an article in the publication Wired. The article spotlights a new form of education where Sergio Juarez Correa allows students to choose their own path in education. 

“Radical” Character Descriptions

Please Note: This character guide is not an exhaustive list of every cast member, and character descriptions may contain what can be considered spoilers.

Sergio

A dedicated and innovative teacher with the goal of making kids love school and have a real chance of finding a place to grow. Sergio has had his share of pain and loss when it comes to students, and he promises to never give up on them. 

  • The actor is also known for their role in “Instructions Not Included,” their role in “How to be a Latin Lover,” and their role in “Coda.”

Chucho

As principal, Chucho may initially appear gruff and uncompromising, but his heart is dedicated to the students too. He may be at odds with Sergio the majority of the time, but the two respect each other.

Niko

Niko is the class clown who begins to see the value of learning, but outside of class, Niko is influenced by his neighborhood gang. 

Lupe

As a bright and inquisitive student, Lupe wishes to delve into philosophy. But Lupe often has to be the parent of her siblings at home, and her mom wishes to take her out of school. 

Paloma

Paloma aspires to be a future scientist, but her father doesn’t approve of her dreams or the lessons she’s taught by Sergio. 

 

“Radical” Review

Our Rating: Mixed (Divisive) 

Notable Performances or Moments

Eugenio Derbez as Sergio 

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Eugenio Derbez as Sergio in “Radical” (dir. Christopher Zalla, 2023)

Eugenio Derbez’s 40 years in show business have earned him recent fame in the U.S. for his slapstick comedy and outrageous facial expressions. In “Radical,” Derbez conveys that he can pull off the subtle humor and dramatic weight needed to invest in Sergio’s mission and also carry a room of unknown actors. This is Derbez’s most thoughtful and dramatic performance to date. 

Highlights

A Sincere Portrait and Celebration of Hardworking Teachers

Director Christopher Zalla shows the utmost respect for teachers and makes the Spanish-language “Radical” a universal movie about overcoming struggle. He doesn’t make the classroom, kids, or teacher glossy or peppy. Zalla understands that the world the majority of students and teachers work together in is filled with strife and filled with the woes of the outside, and this shows in the natural lighting and muted colors of the film. He wants you to understand that this story is real, and it works. 

On The Fence

A Conventional Teacher Story 

Every few years, a movie is made about a teacher who helps out disadvantaged youth. “Dead Poets Society,” “Stand and Deliver,” “Freedom Writers,” “Coach Carter,” the list goes on. The formula for each of these stories can equally engage and bore the viewers: a teacher approaches a reluctant class and faces struggles, but by the end, they’re a team. It’s inspiring and happens often, but you probably already know the ending of the movie before it even starts. 

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A Questionably Accurate Depiction of Teaching

While “Radical” may sincerely love its subject, a teacher might smirk or roll their eyes at Sergio’s methods or monologues in the movie. Movies do not have to accurately depict every nuance of the profession they portray, but when a movie called “Radical” is about the innovative practices of the teacher, we have countless stories and films that come before the very timeline of the movie that beg to differ. As someone with 7 years of teaching experience, the actual teaching work in “Radical” rings false, but if it inspires one person to be a little more kind, patient, and open, then mission accomplished.

Who Is This For?

People who enjoy Spanish-language films, inspiring stories about education, or dramas about real-life events might enjoy “Radical.” 

Recommendations

If you like this movie, we recommend:

  1. Coda
  2. Story Ave
  3. Stand and Deliver

Check out our movies page for our latest movie reviews and recommendations.


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