Film · Review

The Founder: McDonalds The Great

The Founder is a capitalist nightmare. I mean, the events of the film are certainly, but the film could have been about it without actually being it. The film wants us to take some certain things for granted. That McDonalds is right, that McDonalds is a good, and that McDonalds was inevitable. Don’t see that and the film just falls apart at the seams. It wants to be about how this pure, untainted, perfect ideal interacts through the world through the dealings of unscrupulous men. Forgive me, but there ain’t nothing to love in that name.

It just ridiculous, the hagiography that goes on here. There cannot be a wrong word said regarding that beautiful restaurant, the word is reverence. Characters talk in hushed tones about it, we get a five minute flashback of the foundation of the original restaurant. All is beauty and awe. It gets so damn tiresome, never dirty, never unkempt, never anything but a literal manifestation of heaven on Earth are these restaurants. I imagine somewhere down the line a McDonalds exec had to make sure all the boxes were checked. Then rechecked. Then checked again at every single point in the process. There’s even a title card at the end assuring us that nowadays the shakes actually do contain dairy products. You know, Just in case we got a little scared.

Michael Keaton plays Ray Kroc, a small time Huckster who approaches the McDonald brothers to inveigle them into allowing him to franchise their burger stand. The film wants this character to be edgy. When he falls asleep in his motel room at the start of the film he drinks half a bottle of whisky. I mean, go wild now, the guy’s dead, you can libel him all you like. That initial promise goes nowhere though, the character’s just dull, a fairly gifted businessman, but nothing outrageous or exciting. He divorces his wife, but as far as moral impropriety goes that just like it… Bad job, movie.

There’s a lot of good actors in here Keaton, Nick Offerman, John Carroll Lynch, Laura Dern (who gets to be shrewish. Wow. Great opportunity.) but the material they are put to work with is just substandard, there’s no drive here. Where’s the dramatic question to be asked when the brunt of forward momentum is fucking McDonalds? It’s not in the relationship between Keaton and the McDonald brothers because after they sign a contract they literally never meet in the same place again til the end. It’s not in his family life, because there’s no examination into what is happening there, old wife shuttled out, new wife shuffled in without any sort of upset at all.

Even then, there’s indecision, is Kroc a man of the people, there’s a whole sequence based around his Simpsons-esque, country club ain’t our people moment. One that casts him as the heroic working man, in other moments he’s curt and dismissive of those he’s passing the franchise along to. Perhaps he’s just a callous, dismissive, changeable person in general, but that too jives with his portrayal as this earnest believer, hanging on to his last chance with all his might. Get through the while film and I’ve no understanding of the character outside of Keaton’s natural charisma.

Likewise the McDonald brothers. They’ve gotta be the business personified, and so they aren’t allowed anything interesting either. One scene has them sharing a car in a drive to the restaurant, more spouses than brothers looking over their child. We don’t get to see either of their relationships, all they get to do is sit and grouse about maintaining high standards. The stress is said to be affecting one of their health, ‘Don’t you see this is literally killing him?’ The film suggests, later we find out the guys health problems were symptoms of diabetes. What.

Which is to say that it might just be a bad movie. That’s fine, there are plenty of bad movies. But when I go to the theatre, in the pre-roll there’s a McDonalds advert. Sometimes there’s two McDonalds adverts. Usually I slip in late to avoid being advertised to but they get their playtime in. I’ve no interest in a film gutless enough to extend that ad time to the length of a whole feature. I think the film knows it too, creeping in at the edges there, how embarrassingly sycophantic the whole operation is. If all publicity is good publicity the moral thing to do would be to give none at all.

Besides, Ray Kroc is dead. Richard and Maurice McDonald are dead. McDonalds in that legal, American sense is alive. Their hands stay clean. Much like their food, staff, and, I am sure, the interior of every single one of their restaurants worldwide. At the end, Keaton has a monologue about why McDonalds, that’s an actor saying those words, I wonder how he felt at the end of the day.

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