Eva Longoria directs a powerful story for Cheeto Inventor

SXSW: The Movie captures the look, feel, and taste of the ’70s and ’80s

Resumes can go wrong, especially ones that err on the side of the mainstream and are run by a major studio. From poor acting to lack of scripts, to directorial missteps and even sensational stories that blur the truth, the world has had its fair share of flawed glimpses into the lives of history’s most attractive people.

Richard Montañez, the man who claims to have invented Cheeto “flamin’ hot” is one of those people, especially when one takes into account the times he allegedly debunked his story. But his autobiography, titled “Flamin’ Hot,” is far from Being bad, imperfect, or flawed.Eva Longoria’s directorial debut about the strength of identity and resilience is too much fun to miss though whether or not the true story carries weight.

Jesse Garcia plays Montañez, a hardcore, charismatic self-proclaimed “vato” from Southern California who digs himself out of a life of criminal dealings to clean up his act while providing for Judy (Annie Gonzalez), his wife, childhood sweetheart, and their children. He ends up with a janitor at a Frito-Lay factory laying down elbow grease to build relationships, learn on the job, and provide for his family amidst a turbulent economy—but a once-in-a-lifetime idea born of his proud Mexican heritage ends up getting him in front of the right people and propelling him to success.

Because the opening moments of “Flamin’ Hot” set up the scene you’re in for something fast and fun right from the start. García’s narration guides the audience through a series of cliched one-liners and glossy, loud imagery that draws the viewer in as the story begins to take shape. The film gives great historical context to the 1970s and 1980s as they relate to Southern Mexican culture in California while making Montañez’s story feel cinematic and exciting with its pacing and visual style. It says a lot about Longoria’s guiding eye, which is undoubtedly powerful.

The movie has a clear voice right from the opening, and Longoria’s choice to tell the story in a way that makes every beat feel urgent and exciting is testament to that. Because of the way it visually molds and punches the narrative–with the help of the text work of co-writers Linda Louis Kulick and Yvette Chavez–you feel compelled to go with Montañez on the journey of how he got to where he is today.

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Along the way, the film immerses you visually in bright colors, retro production and costume design, and loudly with colloquial and catchy Spanish music of the era. He goes the extra mile to make the audience feel like a Montanese throughout the movie, from his first introduction to the vast and weary Frito-Lay plant, to the time he first decides to call upon his faith in one of his many times of need, dragging us into his emotional heart.

Pushing that sentiment to the extreme, the film does a great job of engaging the audience with beautiful displays of cultural pride, particularly regarding food as the film’s focal point. You can almost taste the dishes and snacks on display, and you can tell they are made with love by the way they are photographed with precision and attention. Throughout the film, cinematographer Federico Cantini proves as adept at depicting delicious desserts as he is at framing vivid, inherently human shots of the film’s subjects.

A movie can look catchy and a script can be well written, but if offers aren’t available, it sends the train off the tracks. This problem does not exist in “Flamin’ Hot”. Garcia and Gonzalez’s leads are incredibly charismatic as people and as a team, and they carry the movie through their characters’ true love story.

But Garcia’s Montañez builds other bonds throughout the movie. His relationship with Frito-factory engineer Clarence (creepy but likable Dennis Haysbert) feels real and is full of layered experience on the part of both the characters, as well as the actors themselves and their work. It’s also a driving force for the film, and as both characters learn from each other at the hands of perseverance, their friendship helps solidify the narrative as a story of resilience.

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“Flamin’ Hot” is also a story about love and support and how these kindnesses nurture and enhance the extraordinary things that last. The movie is very much a love letter to the idea that our identities are the source of our strength and that it’s just the thing “Flamin’ Hot” needs to work. Fortunately, the real energy of the first Longoria feature makes it an attractive and functional watch.

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