Stories of triumph over adversity have long been the bread and butter of Hollywood. Films like On the Waterfront, Chariots of Fire, and Rocky have often broken through on the biggest stages. However, rarely do stories of success from Latino stories get the same celebration. Actress turned director Eva Longoria looks to change that with Flamin’ Hot, her directorial debut. You may question the power of a movie based on snacks. Flamin’ Hot will make you a believer.
Richard Montañez (Jesse Garcia) needs to support his family. With a child on the way, he tries to clean up his act as a hustler and seller. This lands him at Frito-Lay, where he begins to work as a janitor. With the support of his wife Judy (Annie Gonzalez), he begins going in early to learn how to work the machines from plant engineeer Clarence (Dennis Haysbert). However, when a series of recessions hits, Frito-Lay begins laying off its workers. To get his friends their jobs back, Richard pitches a new kind of snack. What if Cheetos, Doritos, and popcorn tasted more like Mexican dishes?
Longoria deftly handles the line between saccharine and triumph. There are plenty of moments where Flamin’ Hot could have devolved into a far less effective film. Yet, it charms at every turn, which Longoria ensures with some brilliant editing choices. She sets up and knocks down jokes, and while they may be cheesy at times, Longoria allows for that space.
The screenplay is sharp as well. Screenwriters Linda Yvette Chávez & Lewis Colick not only provide the premise with an easy to follow structure, but they allow it to cross decades with ease. At times, Flamin’ Hot relies on character monologues to inspire the next actions, but these scenes are so well written, you truly will not care. The power of the humor injected throughout the film certainly helps keep us engaged for the shorter monologues that follow.
Garcia and Annie Gonzalez build a relationship that provides Flamin’ Hot with its heartbeat. They are both charismatic, but its the non-verbals that win us over. Gonzalez holds the camera’s attention in many of these moments, allow the slow shifts of emotion to play to perfection. Garcia brings an unusal likability to the role of Richard. He also carries a voice-over burden, but keeps us engaged with his ability to nail a turn of phrase. Both are truly special, and should be sought by big studios for future films.
The ensemble also plays to their strengths. Allowing Haysbert, Shalhoub, and Walsh play to their strengths plays huge dividedens. They each represent different aspects of Richard’s drive, and we get to understand their perspectives far more than one might expect.
Yet it’s the latinx casting that really helps the world come to life. At the factory, Bobby Soto, Alejandro Montoya Marín, Jimmy Gonzales, and Eric Marq provide a sense of home in the factory. As the story changes, we feel their presence and their struggles. It also provides an excellent juxtaposition for Richard’s home life. There, he fights with his father Emilio Rivera, learns lessons from his abuelito Pepe Serna, and loves his children (Brice Gonzalez & Hunter Jones). The deep authenticity of the world gives the story a blue-collar lens, and we know that Richard’s success is a step forward for all of us.
Flamin’ Hot will certainly find its audience. It’s a very fun and tells a universal story. There’s no reason a movie about Cheetos should be this good. Yet there’s so much heart in Flamin’ Hot, you will fall head over heels.