Director John Lee Hancock and his company on The Founder have proven themselves to be geniuses for one reason: without a hint of pretense, they have managed to make people pay them to watch a feature length McDonald’s advertisement.
In the first ten minutes of the film, the viewer learns that McDonald’s brand burgers are not only delicious, but also made with care, containing an all-beef patty, two pickles, a pinch of onions and so on. This is not necessarily to say that the film is artless, but it’s absolutely impossible to watch without being aware that the main takeaway is “I’m lovin’ it”.
The Founder tells the story of Ray Kroc, a driven man who helped turn a small family-owned restaurant into a franchise, using some less than ethical methods. Kroc is played to perfection by Michael Keaton, tapping into his cherished Beetlejuice roots, turning in a truly villainous character. Therein lies a large bit of trouble in this film. It seems like there are two stories being told due to the different styles of the writer and director. Screenwriter Robert Siegel (Big Fan, The Wrestler) is telling a story that can be described as Wolf of Wall Street lite (Kroc is a self-righteous sociopath who is emotionally distant from his wife [the criminally underused Laura Dern] and does his best to destroy the McDonald brothers [the deeply sympathetic John Carroll Lynch and Nick Offerman]). However, John Lee Hancock (The Blind Side) prefers to tell a different type of story; one in which, through grit and determination, any scrappy go-getter can become the most powerful person in the world. The Founder lies in this weird crevice between the condemnation and celebration of capitalism and the free market. Unfortunately, the director usually takes the win, which is why surrounding the occasional moment of revelation, Kroc is more frequently shown as a savvy businessman than as a conniving scumbag.
Meanwhile, Kroc is the only person who is shown as being anything less than sparkling clean. In fact, the mandatory “where are they now” segment at the end of the film makes sure to let the viewers know that the bigwigs that came after Kroc were all wonderful people.
All of these variables make it incredibly difficult to admit that The Founder is actually kind of decent. It’s sleazy, watchable entertainment with a great central performance in tow. Just be prepared to feel very dirty afterwards and to follow up the screening with a meal at the nearest non-McDonald’s burger chain.
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Shahbaz Khayambashi: @Shakhayam