Oh look, there’s a critic on The Young Folks named Donald, and he’s reviewing a movie about the fast food chain McDonald’s! Yeah, I’m not buying that as coincidental either. We all think we know the story of McDonald’s, all the gross rumors about questionable ingredients or general negligence. However, very few of us know the true origins of where and when McDonald’s became the fast food giant it is. Although, in reality, it’s not much better of a story to hear than the aforementioned questionable business practices, because it’s just as sketchy and morally bankrupt.
The Founder stars Michael Keaton as Ray Kroc, whom we all associate with the founding of the McDonald’s enterprise. On the contrary, Ray was originally a business to business sales rep trying to sell a milkshake mixer and wasn’t succeeding very well. However, that all changed when he stumbled upon a small fast food shop owned by brothers Mac (John Carroll Lynch) and Dick (Nick Offerman) McDonald. Working with the brothers, Kroc would go on to create a franchise out of the brothers’ humble beginnings, even if he knew he would have to back-stab the brothers to get there.
With the story so heavily focused on the three leading men, it’s great to see all three of them performing so well here. Keaton does an excellent job portraying the scummy, yet slightly sympathetic Kroc, showcasing the drive such a business man would need to make this fast food empire a reality, while also never portraying him as a saint along the way. Offerman and Lynch make a great team as the brother duo who created this little store together, believing it could be something truly great. All three actors work extremely well off each other, from their beginning coalition to the eventual headbutting that would come with such a skyrocketing enterprise.
In addition, the McDonald brother origin story is a great one to learn about, and it serves as a nice jumping point to see why these brothers care about their restaurant so much as to ensure it’s in the right hands. On that note, Ray Kroc’s own journey into skyrocketing the fast food business is an interesting one as well. It’s purpose is to showcase the struggles of a business person who has always wanted more than what he’s had. While never painting him as 100% good or 100% bad, you do understand where Kroc’s decisions come from as the story progresses, such as him treating the business with love and dedication initially, but eventually having to turn towards shadier methods as his financial situation became worse. It’s a great way of showing a human being rather than a caricature, even if he eventually does start becoming a lot more toxic towards the brothers as the film progresses.
The film is far from a perfect biopic, however, as some parts of story drag on longer than necessary, while other moments are skimmed over without much thought or explanation. Some audience members will find themselves getting slightly bored towards the film’s middle, as it starts to grind before Kroc starts to turn into a more devious business person. Not to mention, the subplot involving Kroc’s eventual marriage to Joan Smith (Linda Cardellina) feels out-of-place seeing as to how their marriage happened long after the events of the narrative (at least according to the info I found).
Also, I don’t know if you’d consider this a spoiler, but if you’re familiar beforehand of Ray Kroc’s history, you should already he know he pulls some scummy moves in creating the McDonald’s empire. Initially, the film does a good job of showing that Ray wasn’t unmotivated in making changes, he had personal reasons that he needed to make progress that conflicted with what the original McDonald brothers wanted. However, about half way through the movie, that progression just seems to stop entirely out of nowhere, and Ray Kroc is immediately transformed into little more than a business prick. The way the film built him up towards the beginning didn’t change the fact you knew he’s transform into a sleaze bag, but you at least knew where he was coming from. Close towards the midway mark, however, their just appears to be this “click” where the filmmakers forgot to include another key moment or two to truly transition him from a hot head with a dream to a cold-hearted, calculating corporation owner. It’s a bit disjointed, and serves as a rather noticeable distraction to an otherwise interesting amount of character exploration.
Despite this, The Founder is another good biopic picture worth checking out. Whether it’s the rather interesting true story that compels the viewer to sit through and learn more about Kroc’s booming business, or the three great leads commanding the screen, there’s a lot of enjoyment to be had here, even when the film starts to drag or show its rushed elements. Much like your favorite fast food burger, The Founder may be a little hastily cobbled together, but the enjoyment is still there in the experience.