Cert: 12A / 115 mins / Dir. John Lee Hancock / Trailer
If there's one golden rule of cinema, it's that everyone loves a good underdog story. I must get round to seeing one soon. The Founder however, depicts not of the struggle McDonald brothers themselves, but of Ray Kroc - the guy who successfully franchised out their business, turning it from a precarious six-outlet chain in California to the behemoth we know today. It's not a particularly subtle tale, and it's not handled particularly subtly. From the cinematic hush the first time The M-Word is spoken, then again when The Golden Arches™ are later revealed*1, to the lead character tracing a route to california on a map with his finger when there's already a massive red line denoting the journey, The Founder is based on a level of simplicity which befits is subject perfectly.
Michael Keaton gives a relatively strong central performance as Kroc, even if he's only really playing Michael Keaton™, while John Carroll Lynch and Nick Offerman are on surprisingly great form as the McDonald brothers (not surprising that Offerman should be great of course, just that he's great in this). Laura Dern appears fleetingly as Kroc's long-suffering first wife Ethel, as does Linda Cardellini as his second, with some of the most over-directed flirting cinema has ever witnessed.
This is by no means a hagiography of the world's largest burger chain, but neither is it a hatchet-job. While the film isn't officially authorised by McDonald's, it's clearly designed to weave its way around any potential defamation lawsuits. The people involved in the corporation's infancy are depicted variously as naive, controlling, needy, vain, conniving and ruthless, but the ideal itself is never less than idolised. When Ray Kroc lays his franchise-pitch out to the brothers*2, dreamily comparing the McDonald's brand to literal churches and courthouses, the audience can take that any way they want, and they'd probably all be correct to some degree.
But despite the eventual ubiquity of the California startup and the lead character's mantra of persistence (which he lifts wholesale from a motivational-speaking LP), this isn't a film of 'the little guy'. Failed business-deals are done in kitchens and parkings lots; the successful ones occur in upmarket restaurants, golf courses and lodge-clubs. The faceless, burger-munching public aren't the customers here, they're the product. This is the underdog story, repackaged as a corporate sermon, where the first past the post is the winner, fuck everyone else and welcome to America. This is the tale of a down-at-heel salesman who comes across something new that he really likes and thinks "Wow! I'm terrible at my own job, how can I make money off the back of someone else's idea?" *3
I particularly liked the caption card before the closing credits stating that McDonald's 'feeds 1% of America every day'. My brain assumed that was delivered as an achievement. As if they're some sort of humanitarian organisation. I imagine this is a lot more enjoyable if you leave your cynicism at the door. A big ask, for 2017.
What can I tell you? Interesting as a film, depressing as a story. The Founder kept me engaged for its duration albeit in a slightly perfunctory way, but it's ultimately conceited, disposable and leaves a slightly unpleasant aftertaste.
And I think we all know precisely where that analogy is headed…
Difficult to say as I'm not exactly sure who this film is for…
Not particularly, although the 1950s colour-palette set-dressing is very well executed.
I have no idea.
From the star of Birdman and director of Saving Mr Banks?
I shouldn't imagine so.
Level 2: You know that Michael Keatons? Well he was in that 1989 Batman film, which also starred Lando Calrissian, Jek Porkins, Biggs Darklighter, Leesub Sirln and that (somehow) un-named snowspeeder pilot from out of Empire *4.
*1 The arches are part of a concept painting in the brothers' original San Bernardino office, created from Richard McDonald's idea, and Kroc's awe-struck response is met by Mac McDonald's line "Oh, that's some real Dick magic, right there". Meanwhile, the audience nods in agreement, for any number of reasons… [ BACK ]
*2 Although I liked that the screenplay makes a thing about Maurice McDonald co-running a stressful and thriving business whilst living with Type 1 Diabetes. Faintly ironic given that the man himself is arguably a key factor in the 20th century boom of the Type 2 variety… [ BACK ]
*3 While I can't seem to locate it on YouTube at present, I'm fairly certain McDonald's ran a TV commercial in recent years featuring a brief flashback sequence to the first quaint restaurant out in California in a 'how far we've come' vein. Although I don't recall that advert using the voiceover line "…of course, our Ray fucked those boys over good and proper like they deserved". But without watching the ad again, who knows? [ BACK ]
*4 An actor, oddly enough, named Mac McDonald. [ BACK ]
• ^^^ That's dry, British humour, and most likely sarcasm or facetiousness.
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