There isn’t much to dislike about writer / director Christopher Zalla‘s “Radical,” an easy-to-love, feel-good film that has a massive amount of charm and a universal appeal. Based on an incredible true story, this inspirational tale of hard work, redemption, and triumph over adversity is a real charmer from start to finish.

The sixth grade students at Jose Urbina Lopez Elementary in Matamoros, Mexico are among the worst performing students in the entire country. Living around a great deal of poverty, cartel violence, and general hardship, it seems from the get-go as if they’re destined to fail. After enduring classes with adults that are dismissive and discouraging, and educators who seem to care more about discipline than actually teaching, the students are thrown for a loop when the eccentric Mr. Juarez (Eugenio Derbez) breathes new life and an unexpected excitement into their classroom. With this radical approach to learning, the kids begin to feel not only valued and empowered, but new curiosities are developed and fostered. What happens next is absolute magic, both in the lives of the children and their teacher.

The story of a wacky, unconventional teacher who inspires stubborn, disadvantaged students to succeed and excel isn’t anything new. It’s a great story that’s been done before on screen, but Zalla’s version is a lot of fun. Much of the film’s success be credited to the cast, with great actors and characters that are equally easy to fall in love with. And let’s be honest here: what film hasn’t benefited greatly from Derbez’s potent chemistry alone?

The film grows overly melodramatic as it nears its conclusion, but mostly stays positive. The story provides a constant reminder how important it is to foster a natural curiosity in children by striving to make learning fun. It tugs on the heartstrings with a familiar refrain, but as a film that is engineered to have a broad, popular appeal, it manipulates emotions by design. Despite a couple of minor stumbles, “Radical” is as crowd-pleasing as it gets.

By: Louisa Moore

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