Michael Keaton plays a character in The Founder who is far more interesting than the movie he occupies. He is brimming with such energy and enthusiasm that it’s almost jarring for the movie to be as languid as it is.
The Founder details the success of Ray Kroc, who was responsible for McDonalds franchise. More specifically, it’s about how he ripped off the actual founders, the McDonald’s brothers, and ran away with the riches.
Ray Kroc begins his entrepreneurial journey as a sleazy salesman of milkshake machines who discovers a thing of beauty: a restaurant that serves food fast.
For the 1950s, this is revolutionary, and Kroc wants a piece of it.
The movie’s greatest joy is watching history unfold on screen and to learn what makes McDonalds so unique, including all the innovations the McDonald’s brothers came up with and its iconic golden arches.
Of course, Kroc perverts this idealistic restaurant into some colossal and cheap, but the viewer can’t help but admire his work ethic and ingenuity. One could even call him the Steve Jobs of burgers.
But for every Jobs, there is a Wozniak. The McDonald’s brothers (played by Nick Offerman and John Carroll Lynch) were the ones to create the assembly-line restaurant, yet they eventually lost what they created and even the right to have their own name on their restaurant.
The naivety of the McDonald’s brothers and the optimism of Ray Kroc are reflected well in the film’s art design, which comes straight out of Archie comics and Mad Men. The vibrancy of the restaurants themselves serves as an off-putting contrast to the dingy McDonalds of today. Or maybe I’m just going to the wrong McDonalds restaurants.
Too bad The Founder‘s subject matter is weighed down by its workman-like execution. The movie lacks the momentum required to sustain the full attention of viewers. It is content to drone in an age where, much like our burgers, movies are supposed to be speedy.
Most of the characters aren’t that well developed either. Only Ray Kroc and the McDonald’s brothers are given any dimension. The rest of the cast suffers badly, especially Ray Kroc’s wife (played by Laura Dern), who only exists in relation to her husband in the movie.
It’s not as if The Founder didn’t have any material to work with. Ray Kroc’s secretary, for example, was apparently a major player in the McDonald’s corporation and the first women to be a guest in the all-male New York Stock Exchange directors dining room since Queen Elizabeth II.
Nearly every side-character was a hundred times more interesting in real life than they were in the movie. All the lags in the pacing could have easily been filled by some exploration of them.
Keaton, who has experienced a renaissance since Birdman and Spotlight, is the main thing that keeps this movie from going straight to Redbox. People are naturally fascinated by the unorthodox and morally unsound businessman, and Keaton’s performance conveys all the qualities of one:
Colourful. Corrupt. Cheap. Fast.
Rating: 3.5 / 5