A feel good biopic is less common than you’d think. Often, there’s an element of tragedy to the life story being depicted. There are brighter and sunnier ones, too, of course, but they’re not as ubiquitous. So, it makes Flamin’ Hot stand out a bit more. This interpretation of how Flamin’ Hot Cheetos came to be, through the story of a Frito Lay janitor, isn’t too far from the Disney version of things. Now, it’s hardly edgy, but there’s a sense of culture and representation that took actor turned director Eva Longoria to depict. The end result is something enjoyable yet specific.
Flamin’ Hot seems to be even less accurate to the truth than most biopics (an article is here about the real Richard Montañez if you’re curious), but it doesn’t get in the way of it being effective cinema in the slightest. The spirit of the story is true to the aspiration of the American Dream, just told through snack foods. It may sound silly, but in execution, it’s anything but.
This is the story of Richard Montañez (Jesse Garcia), a janitor at Frito Lay. Well, eventually he would be a janitor there, as a decent portion of his early adulthood is spent looking for work to provide for his family. Once he settles in at Frito Lay, his curiosity and mechanical talents are ignored by his supervisor (Matt Walsh), but slowly endear himself to Clarence C. Baker (Dennis Haysbert), who handles all of the giant machines. Richard aspires to be like Clarence, though the economy and racial discrimination make it seem rather unlikely.
When his plant is up for closure, Richard sees a video from Pepsi CEO Roger Enrico (Tony Shalhoub) urging all employees to think like management. It inspires him to come up with a plan to develop a snack that will speak to his Mexican heritage, which in turn should appeal to so many others. Along with his wife Judy (Annie Gonzalez) and their kids, Richard comes up with what would eventually be known as the Flamin’ Hot line, made all the more famous by Flamin’ Hot Cheetos. From almost nothing, Richard would become a top executive and motivational speaker, truly living the American Dream.
The cast may not have a standout, but everyone is very solid. Jesse Garcia finds the enthusiasm and can-do attitude that made Richard a success, while Dennis Haysbert shows you the eventual soft underbelly beneath his gruff exterior. Annie Gonzalez gets to do a bit more than the traditional supportive wife role would suggest, while Tony Shalhoub and Matt Walsh are welcome presences. Supporting players here include Brice Gonzalez, Hunter Jones, Vanessa Martinez, Emilio Rivera, Pepe Serna, and more.
Eva Longoria makes her directorial debut an assured one, helming with confidence and conviction. The screenplay by Lewis Colick and Linda Yvette Chávez is fairly by the numbers, hitting all the moments you’d expect, but done so in a manner that goes down easy. It’s not quite the Disney version of things, but it’s not too far off. Flamin’ Hot is clearly important to Longoria, so she certainly is giving her all here. I’m definitely keen to see her direct again very soon.
Flamin’ Hot may not be particularly faithful to history, but it tells an entertaining and inspirational story. Plus, it’s almost certainly going to make you want to seek out some kind of salty snack with the seasoning on it (I don’t like cheese, so I opted for the Ruffles Flamin’ Hot BBQ chips and the Fritos Flamin’ Hot Bar-B-Q, though the search for Flamin’ Hot Funyons continues). This is the sort of biopic that goes down easy and leaves no heartburn, so give it a shot.