Eva Longoria dramatises the invention of America’s beloved spicy snack food in her charming feature debut.
A fiery crowd-pleaser premiering at this year’s SXSW, Eva Longoria’s feature directorial debut Flamin’ Hot adds even more spice to the heated rags-to-riches story of Richard Montañez, a janitor-turned-executive at PepsiCo.
In his memoir of the same name, Montañez recounts how he invented the recipe for popular spicy corn chip Flamin’ Hot Cheetos while cleaning the snack machines at a Frito-Lay plant. In Flamin’ Hot, writers Linda Yvette Chávez and Lewis Colick dramatize Montañez’s autobiography for the big screen with cohesion and clarity, while Longoria flexes her directorial muscles with technical flair and genre transformations.
The film chronicles Richard/Ricky (Jesse Garcia)’s rise to success that spans over three decades: the late 1960s and the 70s growing up in east Los Angeles, hustling in school by selling burritos to his white classmates; the 80s when he escapes gang life to work at Frito-Lay where he learns from its mechanical engineers; and finally the 90s when he cooks up the recipe for Flamin’ Hot Cheetos that basically saves the company from recessions and layoffs.
While Garcia’s infectious, happy-go-lucky voiceover narrations guide us through Ricky’s enthralling journey to the corporate top, editor Kayla Emter (who previously worked on Lorene Scafaria’s Hustlers)’s dazzling, fast-paced intercuts seamlessly interweave the charming protagonist’s family life and career endeavors. Blessed with a resilient Latino ensemble cast that commands both tears and laughter at will, Longoria’s execution completely matches her ambition in crafting an affecting dramedy that champions partnerships and heritage.
The film channels the sentimental spirit of a telenovela to depict the Montañez household’s everyday life saturated with mundane joys – even at times when they have trouble putting food on the table. Ricky’s wife Judy, played by the delightful and mercurial Annie Gonzalez, is a force to be reckoned with – either cheering him up when he wallows, or becoming the voice of reason when he waivers. Longoria makes sure to foreground Judy as Ricky’s equal in their invention of Flamin’ Hot Cheetos – giving Gonzalez a meaty role to showcase her dramatic range.
At the core of Flamin’ Hot is indeed a Mexican version of the nuclear family that takes pride in their culinary cultures with a universal sense of belonging. Upon this familial cornerstone, Longoria builds up a multitude of socio-economic narratives, notably the generational traumas derived from systemic discriminations and persecutions among the Latin American community, and the artificial dreams of corporate America that disillusion the working class.
Around the happy ending of Ricky’s story of exceptionalism lingers the poetic melancholy that reminds us of those who never make it like he does – and of the days when he admires the simple beauty of the machines while having sunset dinners with his work buddies on the hoods of their cars.
Although a recent Los Angeles Times investigation claims that Montañez was never the creator of the beloved snack, Flamin’ Hot feels like a cartoonish fantasy anyway, now more than ever in our present precarious economy. The offscreen controversy does not take away from the film’s well-thought-out adaptation of the marketing guru’s personal fairytale – converting a dubitable entrepreneurial cliche into an all-encompassing melodrama with warmth and empathy.
Published 20 Mar 2023