I have to admit, I am an absolute sucker for inspiring teaching stories. From movies like Stand and Deliver to Mr. Holland’s Opus and everything in between, I just can’t seem to get enough. That’s why I jumped at the chance to review Spare Parts, a movie based on an inspiring true story that skipped my local cinema, but is now available on DVD and Digital HD.
We here at GeekDad are huge proponents of STEM education, and so a movie about four underprivileged Phoenix high school students who enter a national underwater robotics competition against better-equipped and better-funded colleges such as MIT seems right up our alley. While the movie is definitely pleasing to technology geeks and engineering enthusiasts, the film turns out to be about much more than building robots.
George Lopez stars as Freddi Cameron, a private-sector engineering PhD., who eagerly accepts a temporary substitute teaching position at a local high school. Part of his assigned duties is to sponsor a robotics club with no funding, no students, and little chance of success. However, seeing an opportunity for a stepping stone to a better future, a motivated student named Oscar (Carlos PenaVega) jump-starts the fledgling club on what seems like enthusiasm alone, recruiting some wildly-different teammates.
What the back of the Spare Parts DVD doesn’t clue viewers in on is that all four students are undocumented immigrants who spend almost as much time building robots as they do dodging immigration agents. Politically-charged discussions aside, the movie tends to incessantly remind viewers about the students’ status at every possible moment, which at times detracts from the flow of the narrative. The cast is great (especially Marisa Tomei as another teacher named Gwen), but the movie does suffer in trying to tell too many stories with its characters. Between unappreciative parents, bullying, and a forced love story, the movie tries to cram too much into its 114-minute run time.
Don’t worry, however, for you science and engineering fans, the movie delivers. Overcoming challenges in the construction of their underwater robot with only $800 in parts (when other teams had tens of thousands at their disposal) is really interesting and the actual competition scenes are great. The movie has a PG-13 rating for some language and violence (fights between a bully and a main character), but it seemed much more like a PG movie to me. That said, I do think it is more appropriate for older kids just because of some of the complex themes in the movie.
Some parts of the true story Spare Parts is based on are embellished or changed for the movie, but reading up on the students and teachers this film was based on truly is inspiring. Though billed as an inspiring teacher movie, the film doesn’t actually seem to show much teaching. What it does show is that there is a potential for greatness in each person, and sometimes all it takes is a caring mentor to open a pathway to reach it.
(Disclosure: I was provided with a review copy of this DVD. All opinions remain my own.)