2023 has already become the year for Hollywood biopics that are trying to remind people that capitalism is actually good, even though the USA and the rest of the world are suffering because of it. But since capitalism has become an integral part of society and CEOs have mythologized themselves enough to make movies about their rags-to-riches stories, these kinds of biographies aren’t going anywhere. The problem is that most of them revolve around White characters. AIR is about Michael Jordan’s iconic shoes, and it’s about White people. Blackberry is centered around White people, but at least it shows them going downhill. And Tetris treats its White protagonist like James Bond. Every time there’s a biopic about someone with any amount of melanin in their skin, it falls into the sports or crime genre. But with Flamin’ Hot, we have a mostly untrue but incredibly fun success story that focuses on a Mexican man and his family.
Eva Longoria’s film revolves around Richard Montañez, a simple Spanish man who began his journey from Guasti, California. He had an abusive childhood, largely due to his alcoholic father, Vacho. His school was full of racist bullies. But his friendship with Judy helped him not only tolerate the bigots but also motivated him to hustle them for money. Judy stayed with Richard through his drug-peddling days, and they went on to tie the knot and have kids together. However, since Richard became a family man, he had to leave his life of crime behind and start earning money the correct way alongside Judy. That was what brought him to the doors of Frito-Lay. Although he was given the position of a janitor, Richard consistently showed interest in the inner workings of the machines, which led to his friendship with an engineer named Clarence. That said, Richard’s friendships, family, and ambitions were truly tested when Ronald Reagan’s policies started to impact Frito-Lay’s sales.
Let’s make one thing clear about Flamin’ Hot. As per a lengthy article by the Los Angeles Times, Richard Montañez didn’t invent the titular Cheetos flavor. He was in charge of marketing, just like the movie claims, but he definitely didn’t come up with the flavor, perfect it, or convince Frito-Lay CEO Roger Enrico to greenlight that Cheetos flavor. Everything that happens before and after the flavor making process probably has truth to it. But since that’s such a widely known and publicly available piece of information, Eva Longoria, Lewis Colick, and Linda Yvette Chávez seem to bring a sense of self-awareness to their storytelling. It’s as if they know they’re inflating an already-inflated urban myth. The telltale signs are right there. We don’t see Richard from anyone else’s point of view. His whole journey is a concoction straight out of his mind. There are several moments where Richard hilariously exaggerates a situation and then walks back on it. Doing so reminds us that it’s a purely subjective and fabricated story where Richard is portraying himself in a light that’s usually reserved for Caucasians.
That brings us to the topic of representation. So, yes, Flamin’ Hot goes down the usual “anyone can be the top G if they want to be” route. But, along the way, it talks about Mexican pride, food, the sense of community, religion, and how all that can come together to help upend the status quo and highlight the importance of immigrants in any country. The movie spends a long time talking about systemic oppression, albeit in a humorous way, and why Mexicans are forced into certain kinds of professions. It contrasts Richard and Vacho’s parenting skills to send the message that a child, who is already facing all kinds of abuse from White people, should get his strength from the family instead of cowering in fear in front of their father. And that pretty much eclipses the pro-capitalism sloganeering. In addition to all that, Flamin’ Hot is really well-paced. It looks and sounds great. The camera work, lighting, and editing are top-notch. The production design, costume design, and make-up design are extremely competent and aptly evolves with the passage of time. All in all, it’s a great directorial effort from Eva Longoria.
The cast of Flamin’ Hot is exquisite. Jesse Garcia has such an infectious energy that you can’t help but get hyped for whatever he wants to do. But, during the close-ups and emotionally heavy scenes, he knows how to imbue his character with the necessary amount of gravitas. He looks amazing in those clothes and in that mullet, too. Annie Gonzalez is equally good. She is practically the spine and the heart of the movie, which is underscored by a conversation between Judy and Richard. She constantly exudes confidence. Most biopics turn the female lead into a whiny, doubting individual in order to make the male lead look like a misunderstood hero. However, that’s not at all the case here, as Judy’s contribution to the story is as important as Richard’s. Also, Jesse and Annie’s chemistry is so organic, and they are too lovable as an on-screen couple. Brice Gonzalez absolutely kills it in the taste-testing scenes and when he has to market the Cheetos. Dennis Haysbert’s tranquility amidst all the chaos is great. To be frank, every single member of the cast is fantastic. So, a big round of applause should be dedicated to casting director Carla Hool.
There’s no doubt about the fact that I would’ve enjoyed Flamin’ Hot more if it didn’t misrepresent the facts of the Cheetos’ story to such a dizzying extent and if its final message wasn’t so pro-capitalistic in nature. As mentioned before, the self-mythologizing and self-aware forms of storytelling are evident. But it wouldn’t have hurt the filmmakers to show some gratitude to the people who actually made the iconic Cheetos. In fact, if you think about it, the movie could’ve done away with the invention story or reduced its screen time, and highlighted Richard’s marketing skills in a snazzy and slick way. Then the narrative would’ve had more truth in it, and people would have learned something from Richard’s stint as the Director of Multicultural Marketing. With all that said, I think Flamin’ Hot is an enjoyable film and a welcome addition to the usually vanilla biopic genre. So, definitely give it a watch, and do share your thoughts with us.