Flamin’ Hot Dazzles With Heart and Laughter

Flamin' Hot still of Jesse Garcia as Richard Montañez staring with his arm on a shelf.

While some might criticize Flamin’ Hot for taking artistic liberties with a story that might hold more fiction than fact, they ignore the inspirational aspects of seeing someone succeed who looks like they can be a part of your family. With Eva Longoria’s keen directing, Flamin’ Hot blends heart and humor with extravagant scenes, moving from fantasy to reality with a stellar cast. It’s fun and reminds me that no one can make you feel small without your permission.

With a screenplay written by Lewis Colick and Linda Yvetta Chávez, it stars Jesse Garcia as Richard Montañez. A man struggling to support his wife, Judy (Annie Gonzalez), and two sons with limited options in a country that prefers criminalizing Hispanics to providing opportunities. When a friend helps him land a job as a janitor at Frito-Lay, Richard, given time and family help, creates the Flamin’ Hot Cheetos.

In Flamin’ Hot, Each Cast Member Brings The Story to Life

The story feels comedically larger than life thanks to Jesse Garcia’s hilarious narration, often complete with imposing his voice over white characters. Garcia does not only bring laughs. There’s a warmth in his smile that displays a cheerful optimism that makes his character even more likable. Often that outward portrayal is meant to silence internal insecurities. Annie Gonzalez as his wife, Judy, is phenomenal. She depicts Judy as comforting and supportive but doesn’t stray from financial worry.

Flamin' Hot still of Richard Montañez (Jesse Garcia) speaking with mentor Clarence (Dennis Haysbert).
Flamin’ Hot still of Richard Montañez (Jesse Garcia) and Clarence (Dennis Haysbert).

Other cast members who deliver are the adorable Brice Gonzalez as Richard’s youngest child, Steven, and Hunter Jones as his eldest, Lucky. Brice’s appearance makes you smile every time, and Lucky allows young Hispanic kids to see their struggles reflected in the movie. Additionally, it’s an opening for Richard to relay wisdom to Lucky, so any kids watching can learn the blessing of embracing their identity and culture. As Richard says, “It’s a superpower.” Dennis Haysbert, as Richard’s friend and mentor, Clarence, is dynamite. His facial expressions convey so many emotions at the drop of a hat.

Breaking Generational Trauma

Another pivotal emotion in Flamin’ Hot is pain and resentment. Richard’s relationship with his father, Vacho (Emilio Rivera), is contentious. Having abusive family members find religion, then suddenly lecture you is one of the most annoying and hypocritical experiences. Couple that with years of hearing criticisms and no praise, and it’s a wonder Richard even talks to his father. Emilio does fine work with few words, yet each time his character speaks, it’s like a knife to Richard’s character and the audience.

Flamin’ Hot Reminds Me of Films Outside the White Gaze

If white people are not at the center, or it doesn’t pander to them, the hate train is long. Seeing how marketing for Montañez’s Flamin’ Hot Cheetos was nonexistent drives home the point that racism supplants profits for some. They’d rather take an economic blow than see someone other than white succeed. While primarily a funny film, Flamin’ Hot includes these moments, and my mind went to movies. Many diverse films fail every year, not because they’re bad films but because no one knows these movies exist.

It Does Not Skirt The Controversy

Flamin' Hot still of Jesse Garcia as Richard Montañez staring with his arm on a shelf.
Flamin’ Hot still of Richard Montañez (Jesse Garcia).

Rather than shying away from the claims that other folks in Frito-Lay created Hot Cheetos, Flamin’ Hot uses it to laughingly demonstrate the cultural and class difference between white people in a lab and the Montañez family. The former mixes dashes of liquid from tubes in a sterile white room. The latter shows the Montañez family grinding, cooking, and blending various spices from natural vegetables to make theirs.

It’s unclear how much of Richard Montañez’s book, A Boy, a Burrito and a Cookie, which Flamin’ Hot also bases its story, is fact or dramatization. However, it doesn’t appear that Frito-Lay definitively asserts Richard Montañez had no part in creating Hot Cheetos. In fact, their careful wording earns my side-eye. With matters of creation, corporate and white penchant for using law or loopholes to steal credit—like patents that are legal white theft—Frito-Lay’s claims could be correct from a legal standpoint.

Recommended for a Moving, Funny, Distinct Joy

Flamin’ Hot is about succeeding against all odds. It’s an inspiring story for Hispanics and marginalized groups who rarely see tales about our creators. Though I do not subscribe to the archaic “overworking to prove yourself” ideals, I believe people should not give up. That’s the profound meaning—your difference is your strength. Plus, have someone or several someones in your corner cheering you on. Flamin’ Hot packs fun into a message about perseverance and self-acceptance. While some will complain, “But he didn’t create Flamin’ Hot Cheetos,” the movie’s jubilance and diversity shine. After all, how many biographies about white people not only exaggerate but grant heroism to unsavory and even despicable people? Exactly.

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