Originally published on RenitaColeman.com
By Samantha Reichstein
All it takes are two words to evoke feelings of hunger, comfort and nostalgia for billions of people around the world: golden arches. The success of McDonald’s is obvious to anyone who’s devoured a Big Mac, but becoming a global franchise seemed impossible to the McDonald’s brothers themselves. If you’re hoping for an inspiring story of entrepreneurship however, The Founder depicts quite the opposite.
The name of the game is hustle in director John Lee Hancock’s and writer Robert D. Siegel’s latest biopic The Founder—a cinematic re-telling of a historical franchise conquering the fast-food industry by storm. While Dick McDonald (Nick Offerman, Parks and Recreation) and Mac McDonald (John Caroll Lynch, Fargo) prove necessary characters when laying down the story’s foundation, Ray Kroc (Michael Keaton, Birdman) remains the key player throughout the film with his capitalistic drive, greed-obsessed attitude and love-to-hate, hate-to-love personality.
Peddling city to city in hopes of striking a deal, Kroc embodies an unlucky businessman—the underdog if you will—that the world hopes will one day succeed. Luck flips his way after a California restaurant takes interest in not just one of his five-spinner milkshakes, but eight of them, leading Kroc on a drive across the country in hopes of witnessing this establishment in action. Once his eyes lock with the crowd standing underneath a sign that reads “McDonald’s,” Kroc, and audiences, know he’s found a gold mine.
That gold mine—unheard of in 1954—consists of food service from grill to counter in a mere 30 seconds.
Kroc soaks up every detail of Dick and Mac’s lives, returning the next morning with an idea to franchise the company, a plan he believes is brilliant and an overall win-win for all. Their initial, uninterested response however begins the back-and-forth between an iron-fisted mindset and wholesome ideals. Kroc demands a mass-planting of McDonald’s locations across the country, while Dick and Mac are blissful enough running one burger joint in San Bernardino.
Siegel and Hancock prove triumphant with The Founder by showcasing a story of professional success that requires some personal defeats, a theme consistent throughout their other works: Siegel’s Saving Mr. Banks and The Blind Side, and Hancock’s The Wrestler. Audiences learn, along with Kroc, how to grow a restaurant industry by collaborating with raw business talent such as Fred Turner (Justin Randall Brooke) and Harry J. Sonneborn (B.J. Novak.) That drive remains constant throughout Keaton’s performance, pushing him away from his supportive, yet bland first wife Ethel (Laura Dern), pulling him into an affair with his business partner’s wife while also manipulating his former idols the McDonald’s brothers; excellent performances by Offerman and Lynch who venture into serious roles, showcasing defeat while gaining audience sympathy after every business call.
That original peddling businessman introduced at the beginning transforms into a greedy negotiator, creating an internal conflict for audiences to either applaud or despise him.
Kroc wiggles Dick and Mac out of the business completely, though rooting for him to fail proves impossible. Audiences not only know the revolutionary success of McDonald’s, but become entranced with Keaton’s metamorphosis into a ruthless businessman. An actor too smart to make his character the unpopular villain, Keaton transforms into America’s dislikable hero, forcing golden arches (and fast-food obsessions) from sea to shining sea.
A capitalistic, dog-eat-dog message that acts as precursor for America today? Absolutely. But minus some lengthy scenes, it worked, and I’m Lovin’ It.
Rating: ★★★★★ 5/5