In her first directing effort, Eva Longoria comes in hot with Flamin’ Hot, the story of a man who used hope, heritage, and cheesy goodness to find success.
In an age where popular origin stories like Spider-Man, Batman, and other famous heroes have been told over and over, we’ve been long overdue to get the indisputably most important origin story of all: that of the Flamin’ Hot Cheeto. Well, that’s what Eva Longoria’s directorial debut, Flamin’ Hot, strives to do. I know it may sound like a hard sell to make the creation of a snack food line sound in any way interesting. But Longoria and everyone else involved take every needed step to show how Flamin’ Hot is not just about a snack, but about the never-ending hope of a loveable dreamer and the power of his heritage that helped him reach success … That made me sound like I’m marketing for Frito Lay, but it all really does come across in a surprisingly uplifting film.
Flamin’ Hot is the story of Richard Montañez (Jesse Garcia), a proud Mexican struggling to get by in the States with his wife (Annie Gonzalez) and children by working as a janitor for Frito Lay. Though he still goes through hardships and is on the brink of unemployment during an economic crisis, he goes under the wing of a respected factory veteran (Dennis Haysbert) and eventually sees a fresh opportunity: channeling his heritage and expertise to introduce a spicy line of the company’s products.
The way I described Flamin’ Hot just now probably doesn’t do it justice. A big part of what makes the film stand out is its use of humor, which is largely framed around Richard’s point of view. No matter what the situation is, his narration always finds a way to put a funny spin on what you’re seeing. The film will occasionally play around with reality, like having a generic company motivational video speak directly to Richard by name, or showing an overly-harmonious what-if scenario of an interaction that would have gone smoother had he been white.
I’d have honestly liked to see Flamin’ Hot embrace this style even more. Some of the best parts of the movie are when stiff business meetings are reenacted via Richard’s eccentric delivery, complete with the other performers acting it out along with his dubbing … But then we’re shown the “actual” versions of these events. The jokes would’ve hit even harder for me had we just been shown the fake versions.
That’s nitpick territory, though, as Flamin’ Hot still has a really fun spirit to it, a constant sense of forward momentum, and dynamic editing. There aren’t really any slow moments, even with the story taking place over the course of decades. My favorite transition in the film is the passage of eight years, in which we pan around the factory while fading out the workers who lose their jobs, with each year’s text running through the machines themselves. That’s both creative and sad, and it tells you everything you need to know about what that time has been like without any dialogue.
Still, Flamin’ Hot wouldn’t be half the film it is without the portrayals of the characters themselves, with Jesse Garcia being far and away the breakout. His portrayal of Richard Montañez has an incredibly effortless charm, uplifting soul, and endless determination that make him instantly rootable. No matter how much misfortune or doubt is thrown his way, his ability to bounce back almost never wavers. You see his resourcefulness starting all the way back in his childhood, in a way that feels relatable and puts you in the shoes of someone in his difficult position.
Even when his faith does falter, you believe that it won’t take long for him to go back in with guns blazing, so to speak. But it never comes across like he doesn’t understand what’s on the line for him or his family. Flamin’ Hot is a comedy and mostly lighthearted, but it knows when to let the weight of a situation be addressed. It portrays Richard as someone who’s just deeply proud of his heritage and wants to succeed in ways that honor it. He almost undoes that good will by questioning those who eat Cool Ranch Doritos, but I can find it deep within my heart to forgive.
There’s really no speck of pessimism to be found in Flamin’ Hot. Even the big head honcho of PepsiCo, Roger Enrico (Tony Shalhoub), is vastly more open and genuinely wholesome than what you’d expect from most people in that role. Is that in any way realistic or an accurate representation of the actual Roger Enrico? I don’t know. The cynical doubter that I am, I’d guess not. But there is a comforting nature to how hopeful Flamin’ Hot’s portrayal of the classic American dream is. It can be as cheesy as a Cheeto, but it creates an environment where you can and want to accept that kind of vision.
That’s why I think a lot of people, at least those who see it, are going to take a shine to Flamin’ Hot. Nothing about it is going to blow anyone away, but it’s clearly not supposed to. It’s a passionate expression of hope and love for what a man represents and for an equally passionate community, of which Eva Longoria is unapologetically a part. Once it’s fresh, hot, and available for viewing, I recommend it. The story isn’t even really about snack foods specifically until the second half. The draw is more the heart of Richard Montañez’s struggle to find success and what that means to him, as it should be.
Flamin’ Hot premiered at SXSW 2023 on March 11, 2023 and will be released globally on Disney Plus on June 9.