Michael Keaton, Nick Offerman John Carroll Lynch, Laura Dern, Linda Cardellini
I have friends who are boycotting The Founder – the movie about American businessman Ray Kroc – because they hate McDonalds and all it stands for. That’s sort of like boycotting Schindler’s List because you think the Holocaust was bad.
McDonalds isn’t making any money off of this lightly comic flick about their less-than-reputable owner. And it’s not like Micky D’s is going to offer Happy Meal toys and collectible cups based on The Founder.
Although, now I’ve typed that, I wish they would.
No, the people profiting off of this are the Weinstein brothers. We’ll have to wait till they’re dead for an exposé on their filmmaking like this one of Ray Kroc’s business dealings.
Yet, I concede that this film doesn’t just show enough of the ugly side of the man who proselytized the 30-second burger. The Founder is a celebration of 1950s American ingenuity…no matter what the cost…
Also, to call Ray Kroc The Founder is misleading; he was a marauding pirate who stole his claim and then foisted its damaging effects on the world.
At the center of The Founder is Michael Keaton as the asshole-y, mercurial lead. When we first meet Kroc, he’s a sad-sack salesman pitching milkshake machines to run-down diners. At night, in lonely motels, he flips through a dog-eared copy of Norman Vincent Peale’s The Power of Positive Thinking and tries to find his muse. Then, he meets a couple of California brothers who’ve turned their burger stand into an assembly plant.
And then come the pillaging, pitching, and bullshit.
Keaton is wonderful as Kroc (as in Kroc of shit) – a man who has a LOT in common with Trump. They’re both brash and unapologetically dishonest, immoral, myopic, and self-centered. And of course, they both become rich on the backs and sufferings of other people.
In fact, the movie just feels uneven at times. Moments of humanity poke through, but that’s like saying Hitler also liked kittens. Or that Trump was once nice to a little girl on Oprah’s show back in 1989.
Does that mean that The Founder is a good film for today? Oh, sure!
In fact, Keaton is marvelous, even with the uneven, half-baked script.
The other performers also add nutrition to this fast food. Offerman and Lynch have a blast as the McDonald brothers whom Kroc stole from. Dern tries to add humanity to Kroc as his suffering wife. Cardellini is downright Fellini-esque as Kroc’s mistress.
It’s a difficult line to tow, the line between disgust and admiration. Unfortunately, director John Lee Hooker and his quick, tasteless meal mostly feed us begrudging admiration. This is a problem that Hooker has had with other biopics that needed to be more complex and challenging. (The Blind Side needed someone to challenge her bullheadedness much earlier. Saving Mr. Banks didn’t make Mary Poppins author P.L. Travers bristly enough, and Tom Hanks’ homespun Walt Disney wasn’t slick and shifty enough.)
Yet, if we look underneath that anemic bun of The Founder, the meat is still gray and ugly. “Do it for America,” Kroc says, as he lines his own pockets while keeping others poor. Meaning; don’t dig too deeply and find what’s being fed you.