Directed by: Christopher Zalla
Written by: Christopher Zalla
Starring: Eugenio Derbez, Daniel Haddad, Jennifer Trejo, Mia Fernanda Solis, Danilo Guardiola, Víctor Estrada
Released: May 23, 2024
Grade: B+


In 2011, schoolteacher Sergio Juárez Correa walked into his 6th grade class in Matamoros, Mexico and decided to do things differently.  He was tired of the one-size-fits-all, government-mandated curriculum which had produced nothing but poor results in the preceding years.  Inspired by the work of Indian computer scientist Sugata Mitra, he wanted to open his classroom to a different way of engagement, a different way of learning.  The results were incredible.

Correa’s story was discovered by writer Joshua Davis who penned an article for Wired magazine in 2013.  The film rights were picked up soon after by producers Benjamin Odell and Eugenio Derbez and now here we are with the finished product.  In addition to his role as producer, Derbez steps into the shoes of the leading character – giving the film a splash of star power as he’ll be known to audiences via his performances in the Oscar-winning CODA and the Apple TV+ series Acapulco.

Writer-director Christopher Zalla hasn’t Americanised the narrative – it’s still set in Mexico with characters speaking Spanish.  That said, the screenplay still follows the well-worn, predicable path you’d expect for such a movie.  Sergio gets a lot of early resistance from the headmaster, teachers, and students but over time, he wins them over with his excitable personality.

The film’s first half has a strong comedic flavour.  We learn Sergio is employed because no one else wants the job (he’s got a pulse, so he’s hired), the encyclopedias in the library date back to 1974, and there’s aren’t any computers in the lab because they were stolen two months ago.  Rather than seeing this as a barrier, Sergio involves the kids in an array of physical, hands-on experiments to educate them about the things they want to know more about.  These scenes are cheesy and simplistic… but will put a smile on many faces.

The second half is more dramatic as the focus shifts to the children, and we learn about their complicated lives at home.  This is the film’s strongest attribute.  It helps us care about the characters and understand that despite Sergio’s best efforts, they face other barriers which may be too hard to overcome.  The power of these scenes is a testament to the performances and Zalla’s approach – none of these kids had acting experience and so by keeping things loose and unscripted (there’s a lot of improvisation), it does feel authentic.

Winner of the Festival Favourite Audience Award at the 2023 Sundance Film Festival, Radical is easy to like and enjoy.