Described as a Ted Lasso story, Radical is a feel-good film about a teacher determined to help his students reconnect with the love of learning and fight against the odds that keep them from succeeding: if we transcend the cards we’ve been dealt, we can accomplish anything. Helmed by writer-director Christopher Zalla, Radical is unafraid to get expose the the nitty gritty, corruption-filled Mexican education system and the shortcomings its teachers and administrators face every day just to give their kids a fighting chance. The film also (and bravely) touches on different realities for kids from impoverished neighborhoods, highlighting not only their circumstances but how, when given the support they need, they can rise above them…as well as get pulled in deeper due to the choices of those around them.
Eugenio Derbez is at his best, bringing back the heart and humor from Instructions Not Included and delivering his strongest performance yet. You can tell Derbez cared about this project – it showcases how much he’s grown as an actor and as a person. Radical transforms his often humor-forward approach into a confident, almost second-skin acting unconcerned with making the audience laugh every sixty seconds. Instead, Derbez allows us to connect with Sergio Juarez’s struggles, his anxieties, and his goals. And what surprised me most of all is that while Derbez portrays Radical‘s protagonist, his performance lets the spotlight shine on the children around him more than on himself. This is their story; Sergio is just someone who happened to help the kids get where they needed to be.
Radical shines brightest through its supporting cast of primary school students. These kids are incredibly lively, bringing fresh energy to every scene they’re in. The film’s three storylines are all incredibly deep and heart-wrenching – it’s eye-opening to be reminded just how curious, smart, and excited kids can be about the world. And it’s just as painfully enlightening to realize how soul-crushing it is when the world around them, rather than nurturing children’s curiosities, dismisses them and forces children into further conformity with a system designed to keep poor people poor and make rich people richer. Jennifer Trejo, Mia Fernanda Solis and Danilo Guardiola are a joy to watch; I hope they get to continue their acting careers or to do whatever else they decide to with their lives.
Just as Abbott Elementary is a love letter to teachers, Radical is the same thing to students. It shows us exactly how even the smallest opportunity for curiosity and the pursuit of curiosity can have a massive influence on the trajectory of kids’ lives. If nothing else, those opportunities can give them hope and make life a little more level for those without every advantage at their disposal.
And yes, I did cry. A lot.