Verdict: Michael Keaton is great and this movie isn’t the stupidest, but by god, it was a chore to sit through.
McDonald’s, as we all know, is not really regarded as a fresh or exciting institution. With a location on every busy block in the U.S., it seems like those golden arches and cheap fries are everywhere, all the time, and feel like they have been for most of the modern era (fun fact: they’re everywhere except a whopping 105 countries. Still a lot though).
“The Founder,” however, focuses on those long-lost days when McDonald’s was actually pretty inventive. Fast food wasn’t a thing yet and all the obesity stuff wasn’t a deal. People just marveled at getting cheap food in under an hour, and they fricken’ loved it.
John Lee Hancock’s biopic is interesting for its recognition of that love, but as a movie it feels more like how we see McDonald’s today: a mediocre throw-away piece that feels straight off an assembly line, kinda filling but mostly something we should avoid for our health.
Michael Keaton plays Ray Kroc, a traveling salesman who happens upon a fully automated burger stand in Southern California owned by Maurice and Richard McDonald (John Carroll Lynch and a neatly groomed Nick Offerman). Tempted by their runaway success, Ray convinces them to let him franchise the joint and begins a rampant selling spree, much to the chagrin of the quality-oriented McDonald brothers and Ray’s neglected wife Ethel (Laura Dern.)
It’s only a matter of time before the success gets to Ray’s head and he becomes one of those capitalist monsters we see so often now, favoring cheapness over quality, buying land to lease out to the franchisees he enlists, calling his restaurant the “First McDonald’s” and totally ignoring Richard and Maurice until he’s so pumped full of cash and power that he can push them out.
I applaud the movie for letting Ray be a protagonist for a little while. We root for him in the beginning as we watch him formulate the McDonald’s Corporation idea in his mind. Keaton is fabulous as usual, his persistence infectious and his determination is inspiring. This positive energy is necessary to keep the film from demonizing all entrepreneurs as jerk offs— he’s not bad just because he’s a businessman, it’s all the trickery and cruelty afterwards.
But the movie can be balanced and still insanely boring. And it is. Aside from Keaton himself, there’s virtually nothing I enjoyed about this movie. The writing and direction are pure amateur hour, with a whole host of crazy choices that I can’t even fit in this one review. The supporting performances are just OK— for all his charms, Nick Offerman can really only play Stern Guy— and I can’t even get started on how the female characters are used (wifey’s just a sad lady and the only other girl’s a casual cheater. Not the best). The cinematography is bland and occasionally weird, and I guess editor Robert Frazen just did the best with what he had.
But the nail in the coffin may be the constant montages. Seriously wild. I counted three montages in the last half of the movie, and that’s only after I had noticed enough montages to even think about counting them. It’s lazy filmmaking at its most obvious.
That’s a lot of ranting, but basically the good things about this movie are overshadowed by the lame way they’re presented. Don’t waste your money on “The Founder.”