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Flamin’ Hot (2023)

The Story

Growing up, Richard Montañez is the child entepreneur who could have gone far — except that his parents are Mexican and his skin color is brown. He quickly learns that crime pays, but when his firstborn is on the way, his adoring wife tells him to get a real job. No one in town is hiring except the Frito Lay. Richard lies on his application and almost gets kicked out, but he begs for a janitorial job and gets it. His childhood ambition never died, and he’s quick to buddy up to the factory’s only Black engineer Clarence, who takes him on as a mentee. Richard doesn’t quit, and his enthusiasm lands him where he deserves to be . It’s a tale of family, ambition, and corporate battles, all seasoned with a generous helping of laughs. 

Initial Thoughts

Even though audiences know from the start that Richard climbs the corporate ladder from janitor to veep, we don’t know how. Flamin’ Hot keeps the story light and accessible with its retellings by Richard, Mexicana meets Drunk History style. I’d love to see the heads of Pepsi Co or any multinational going all Chicano on each other, calling each other ese and putting guys in headlocks. Richard is a likeable guy that you want to win; you’re also hoping and praying that the story doesn’t turn sour and show Pepsi stealing Richard’s idea and leaving him out in the cold. This movie was so much better than I expected, and I won’t lie that there was a tear of joy sliding down my cheek as the credit crawl started. I was inspired, to do what?, I’m not sure yet. Flamin’ Hot has been nominated for an Oscar for its original song, but I think this was more of a polite gesture for director Eva Longoria than an actual accolade for the song.  

1/27/2024 JW

2023-flamin-hot

The Deets

Rating: PG-13
Concerns: language, drugs
Runtime: 2h 9m
Genre: Comedy, Drama, Biography
Original Language: English, Spanglish
Release Date (Theaters): Jun 2, 2023  limited
Release Date (streaming): Jun 9, 2023

Main Cast

Jesse Garcia as Richard Montañez
Annie Gonzalez as Judy Montañez
Emilio Rivera as Vacho Montañez
Dennis Haysbert as Clarence C. Baker
Tony Shalhoub as Roger Enrico
Bobby Soto as Tony Romero
Jimmy Gonzales as Hector Morales

Production & Crew

Distributor: Searchlight Pictures
Production Co: Franklin Entertainment, Fox Searchlight Pictures
Director(s): Eva Longoria
Producer(s): DeVon Franklin, David Kern, Samuel Roriguez
Writer: Linda Yvette Chávez, Lewis Colick (based upon the book “A Boy, A Burrito and a Cookie: From Janitor to Executive” by Richard Montañez) 
Cinematography: Federico Cantini
Music: Marcelo Zarvos
Editor: Kayla Emter, Liza D. Espinas
Hair/Makeup Lead(s): Teressa Hill, Carol Mitchell 
Costumes: Elaine Montalvo

Memorable Quotes

Richard: Man, Taco Bell didn’t introduce the world to burritos. Me and my mama did. Well, at least that’s how it felt to me.

Richard: But I wasn’t a white kid, I was brown. And when the world treats you like a criminal, you become one.

Richard: There’s a reason poor people always talking about God. Cause when you don’t got nothing, the guy promising you everything starts to sound pretty good.

Richard: I know I don’t look it, but I promise I’ll be the best worker you ever hired. Look, maybe I not got no diploma, but I got a Ph.D.

Boss: Hmm.

Richard: I’m poor, hungry, and determined, sir.

Boss: Oh, well, that’s just stupid.

Boss: It’s just a janitor gig. What’s the worst you can do? Break a mop?

Richard: But I won’t.

Richard: Hey, Clarence. Some of these chips are looking kinda overbaked. Should the heat be adjusted?

Clarence: Nah. Brown ones are separated and then tossed.

Richard: They just trash ’em? Dang. People always trying to throw away the brown ones.

Richard: Better the devil you know than the devil you don’t, eh, Vacho?

Judy: You want to save someone? Save yourself. And then you come to him when you’re the father that he needs. Come on, baby. We’re gonna go put my voice in your head.

Younger Son: Ow! Ow! Ow! It burns!

Richard/Judy: Burns good or burns bad?

Younger Son: (thinks) It burns goooood!

Richard: It’s not Judy’s, but it’ll do. 

Richard: We all write our own stories. We create our own destinies. 

What the Critics have said

Truth or fiction, Flamin’ Hot is a charming romp that boasts a celebration of family, innovation, and moxie. However, for all its energy, the film’s exploration of the American dream — and the obstacles to achieving it — is vexingly shallow.

In a standout role for an actor regularly seen in more serious parts, Garcia is an utter joy to watch. His disarming lack of cynicism and optimistic disposition while in Richard’s shoes compel us to wish the humble character’s grand aspirations materialize. 

Review: ‘Flamin’ Hot’ entertainingly prints the legend
In LA Times By Carlos Aguilar On 6/9/2023

The screenplay, by Lewis Colick and Linda Yvette Chávez, incorporates a generous serving of Spanglish that imbues the film with a sense of authenticity. The production designers and hair-and-makeup department seem to have had fun recreating the period-specific looks and aesthetics that facilitate the characters’ evolutions. Federico Cantini’s cinematography is another standout, especially the shots of a golden-hued 1960s California vineyard.

Flamin’ Hot feels like it is trying to package a story that should be as bold and unconventional as its real-life inspiration claims to be into a more conventional package. Even without the questions about the veracity of the story, its rah-rah style makes it feel superficial rather than sweeping. In the end, Flamin’ Hot comes across as a selling of a story and a brand rather than a genuine retelling of one.

Taken solely as a product of make-believe, however, and detached from the controversies of the source anecdote, “Flamin’ Hot” turns out to be a surprisingly enjoyable crowd-pleaser.

Review: ‘Flamin’ Hot’ entertainingly prints the legend
In LA Times By Carlos Aguilar On 6/9/2023

Inspiration and entertainment can make corny bedfellows, but Longoria pulls it off, to the extent that a moment of faith when Richard and Judy pray doesn’t feel preachy, but a reflection of their priorities.

[T]aken as fact or fiction, the film just isn’t enough of a meal.

It’s a meal that may make you want to gag a little and reach for the nearest can of Pepsi to wash down the hoo-ha.

‘Flamin’ Hot’: A snack food success story, seasoned with baloney
In Washington Post By Michael O’Sullivan On 6/9/2023

Frito-Lay will happily exploit the time and labour of its Latino workforce, and take money from its Latino customers, yet baulk at the idea of actually investing in them as people. But to pick at that scab any more would be to admit that Montañez’s story, and that of the American dream, isn’t quite as feel-good as we’ve been promised.

The Trailer

Based on a True Story

Flamin’ Hot is based on a book by Richard Montanez, but some reviewers have noted that the story might be corporate lore rather than truth. On RogerEbert.com, Latina journalist Monica Castillo writes:

“Flamin’ Hot isn’t interested in accuracy beyond vintage Frito-Lay logos. Instead, Longoria’s film becomes an extended lesson in tying a product to cultural identity, targeting an audience, and how to monetize them as prospective consumers. … Montañez’s self-mythologizing is his business, and this movie is now an extension of those efforts to rewrite history—a product placement, if you will—cinematically solidifying his alleged role in a product he didn’t create.”

Many reviewers have looked into the history of the Flamin’ Hot chips, to find that Richard became a machinist early in his career at Frito Lay and wasn’t on the team that developed the chips. Director Eva Longoria defended her film at SXSW and told the LA Times, “We never set out to tell the history of the Cheeto. We are telling Richard Montañez’s story and we’re telling his truth.”

Awards & Nominations

2024 Oscar Awards: Best Original Song

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