COMIC DRAMA; 2hr 7min (Spanish with subtitles)

STARRING: Eugenio Derbez, Daniel Haddad

Hands on: from left, Derbez and Haddad

Even downplayed for drabness, the Mexican border town of Matamoros is a red zone with its cartel criminality, its poverty and its dustbowl desertscape. Unsurprisingly, the sixth-grade kids of Escuela Primaria José Urbina Lopez have minimal expectations reflected in the diminished returns of their spirit-sapping home lives. The resigned school director, Chucho (Haddad), isn’t immune, either, admitting with no discernible regret to new teacher Sergio (Derbez) that “no one gives a damn what happens here.”


But in that defeatist assumption, Chucho happens to be wrong, for Sergio cares with everything he has to give. Like lightning in a bottle, he zeroes in on the apathy of his under-performing pupils, encouraging them to think outside their stifling box while winning them over bit by bit with his energised intent and offbeat smarts. As tirelessly imagined by Derbez, this guy — based on an actual, awesome teacher — is so phenomenal his miserable little school should be selling tickets to the Sergio Show. Instead, sigh, he raises bureaucratic hassles for being different. So far, so foreseeable.


Inspired by a 2013 Wired article, writer-director Christopher Zalla’s 2023 Sundance Film Festival Favourite Award winner is a blast of sunshine that weathers the storms of hidebound teachers, resistant parents and the malign grip of gang mentality. If Zalla leans heavily on a worn-in arc of earnest overdrive, it’s because the stakes couldn’t be higher for the children involved. Lupe (Mia Fernanda Solis) is a nascent philosopher. Paloma (Jennifer Trejo), the sharpest card in the deck, is an aspiring aerospace engineer. While not every kid will make those rarefied grades, each one of them deserves a fighting chance, and Sergio’s wacky tactics are their portal to self-belief.