“Contracts are like hearts…they’re made to be broken.”
The fast food business looks to be a fraudulent industry modeled around seduction. Have you ever had a burger that actually tasted as good as the ones in commercials looked? One like the plump, juicy, savory patties held by models? I’ll hedge my bets on the fact that you haven’t, because unlike the sculpted sandwiches placed in the ads, your drive-thru combo meal is probably made without much care or consideration. That’s the only comparison I can make between The Founder’s energetic trailer and lethargy of this film. There’s plenty of side items, but where in the hell is the beef?
1954, Missouri. Ray Kroc (Michael Keaton) travels Route 66 trying to pawn off items with his shtick of positivity, possibility, and a product’s ability to help the customer stand-out from the rest of the crowd. He casts multiple lines and hardly gets a nibble, the bobber steadfast and unwavering. The current gimmick is a 5 spindle milkshake maker. Who would ever need to deliver 5 shakes at once? McDonald’s in San Bernadino, California, that’s who. In fact, brothers Dick (Nick Offerman) and Mac (John Carroll Lynch) ordered 8 for their little revolutionary stand. Kroc must make a visit to these customers, and he’s flabbergasted by the operation. Scratch the idea of parked cars and loitering teens. The brothers created a walk-up concept where orders are placed then fulfilled within 30 seconds. A model make of efficiency, order, and harnessed productivity. Kroc wants in and won’t take no for an answer.
The running theme of The Founder, in the mind of Kroc and told to us through tired and strained dialogue, is the value of persistence. Ray’s idea of the concept is finagling his way to the top, bullying the content local yokel brothers through lies and an intentional negligence of contractual agreements. He’s a starry-eyed and cut-throat entrepreneur; they want to be respected, honest small businessmen. Guess who wins? In their eventual loss, we can’t sympathize with the McDonald’s because they play hostess to the very virus ready to latch onto their brick and mortar company, not only introducing themselves to Kroc but inviting him in for a behind the scenes look at their assembly line of a “crazy burger ballet.” Nor can we fully understand the depths of their despair in abandoning their dream (they’re awkwardly introduced then shuffle in and out through phone conversations…not the most compelling stuff to watch). It’s hard to connect to a biopic when there’s no devotion to human drama.
Because John Lee Hancock directs his films without any sort of personality (don’t get me started on The Blind Side), The Founder tends to serve up too many cold storylines for too many customers. Kroc’s ego falls out of love with his wife Ethel (Laura Dern). She’s an ill-defined personality. Then Joan Smith (Linda Cardellini) catches his eye despite being the spouse to one of Kroc’s business partners. Like the McDonald’s name, Ray sees her and wants her, and ultimately wins through his trademark persistence. But all of this diminishes the effect of Michael Keaton’s outstanding work in the lead role by barely skimming the surface of Kroc’s fast-talking, serpentine maneuverability. Kroc goes from a Capraesque down on his luck everyman to a tailored suit donning sunglasses like an Americanized Marcello Mastrionanni. The transition makes sense visually but doesn’t match the picture’s inscrutable tone nor its mindset. Kroc’s change should read as straightforward as the times: burgers, fries, shakes. Instead, The Founder opts for an updated and expanded menu offering salads and wraps and lattes and all day breakfast. There’s a reason McDonald’s serves 1% of the entire population everyday, and you can bet it has more to do with the basics than the add-ons.
“If I saw a competitor drowning, I’d shove a hose down his throat.”
Rating: 2.5 out of 5