Tortilla Heaven is an independent film of the likes that we really don't see anymore. This film centers around Isidor (Jose Zuniga), the owner of Tortilla Heaven. Things are fine in his life but it is apparent he 's growing a bit weary of his small town in Falfurrias, New Mexico. One day, while cooking a meal for some people in the town, a tortilla that he makes appears with the face of Christ on it. At first, this causes people to to react in a sanctimonious way. Then the dark side of this simple town comes out and with the help of slickster, manager Gil Garcia (Miguel Sandoval), everyone starts looking out for themselves. If there's money to be made they are going to make it. They sell shirts and mugs all with the likeness of the Jesus Tortilla on it. People start praying to the Tortilla. Miracles begin to happen. Things eventually come to a head when Gil wants to remove a farm that is in the way of a new road that could lead into the town. Suddenly, everyone's values are called into question with Isidor ultimately having to decide between the money and the people.
There wasn't anything that original about Tortilla Heaven, but I still found this movie full of charm and a message that actually transcends the story. The central idea seems to be that people are always looking for ways to change their lives, and that is oftentimes how we end up getting into trouble. It is also interesting seeing how the characters change in this movie. Everyone is very close in the beginning. They may not always agree on things, but there is a consensus that they love this town and one another. Once the prospect of bigger and better things enters the picture, it is insane how money clouds many issues. Fights break out in the streets, people start trying to scam each other, and everything is okay because according to Gil it's in the name of "progress."
Underlying this film is a serious theme about growth, materialism, and what happens when we lose sight of things. There is also a lot of subplots with the characters but perhaps the most effective one is between Isidor and his son Marco (Alexis Cruz). As much as Isidor might find this town to be a little small for his big dreams, he certainly doesn't want to lose his son to college. Mixing all of these themes together, this movie plays as a cohesive, witty narrative that eventually seems to be a life lesson not just for Isidor but for the town in general. What does money and all those other trappings matter if you have to get so far away from yourself and the people you care about to attain them?
At 94 minutes Tortilla Heaven plays at the perfect length. This movie has many messages but it's never preachy. It is steeped in the culture it is covering but it never became a message movie. One might want to plan a meal at a mexican restaurant for after the film, because this layered film offers much food for thought.