by Lisa Dib
The biggest question I have about The Founder is this: am I supposed to like Ray Kroc? The film spouts a lot of ‘follow your dreams, persistence is key’ 80s-style do-or-die success talk, but Kroc was - according to this apparently factual film - a deeply untrustworthy, slimy, shallow man. Am I supposed to believe this is who the American Dream is made for? Awful rich narcissists? Hmm. I may have answered my own question.
The Founder is the story of how Ray Kroc (Michael Keaton), unhappy salesman, became Ray Kroc, underhanded McDonald’s baron. When he finds a little burger joint in another state that defies the contemporary model (this is the mid-to-late fifties, with drive-in joints being all the rage) with speedy service, a water-tight kitchen procedure and disposable packaging, he wants in.
McDonald’s, this new apple of Kroc’s business eye, is owned and run by brothers Dick (Nick Offerman) and Mac (John Carroll Lynch) McDonald who pride themselves on their down-home food and simple style. But Kroc is all big dreams and outlandish plans as he usurps the name and chain out from under the kindly brother team, via franchises, broken contracts and underhanded dealings. Kroc, as you can imagine, becomes entirely less and less likeable as the film progresses.
There’s also the pointless subplot of Kroc’s romantic entanglements; Kroc’s supportive but downtrodden wife Ethel (a wasted Laura Dern) whose entire character could simply be “sad lady in fine eveningwear”, and Joan (Linda Cardellini), the wife of another businessman that Kroc, shit that he is, sets his sights on. Because what is a good American if not one that takes what he wants, when he pleases, and bugger the consequences? That’s liberty!
Screenwriter Robert D Siegel’s filmography is all over the place, genre-wise (The Wrestler, Turbo, The Onion Movie) so it’s not surprising that it’s hard to pinpoint where this film is coming from. Is it a comment on how the McDonald’s ethos, once so pure and simple, has morphed into a commercially unstoppable beast? Is it a genuine, or disapproving, look at how ‘persistence’ can be viewed from the other side: as rampaging mania, and callousness, bordering on sociopathy? This film doesn’t make this clear. It’s very pretty, though; director John Lee Hancock (The Blind Side, Saving Mr Banks) has done a good job in the film’s pacing and locations but, ultimately, it’s a Filet O’Fish of a film - tolerably digestible.
The Founder is out now.