The Founder: Even Better Than the Dollar Menu

The Founder Plot Summary:

Based on the true story about the founding of McDonalds.  Ray Kroc (Michael Keaton) is a struggling milkshake supply salesman who comes across the first fast food restaurant in San Bernardino.  Ray convinces the McDonald brothers to expand their restaurant, but they constantly block Ray’s ideas, making it hard for him to truly franchise.  This leads to a rift between Ray and the original owners.

Much like the golden arches themselves, it’s hard to ignore this story.  How can you not be infatuated by the creation of McDonalds?  It’s McDonalds.  There’s nothing more American than that.  Thankfully, McDonalds gets the movie treatment it deserves.  This is much better than a documentary where some guy whines about how eating McDonalds three times a day for a month is bad for you.  Yeah, thanks, Morgan Spurlock.  While not as good as a McGriddle, The Founder is a damn good movie.  This is a thoroughly entertaining story with characters who are on complete opposite sides of the spectrum.  The conflict is very well defined.  On one side, we have the good natured McDonald brothers who care only about the quality of their product.  Then there’s Ray Kroc, who sees McDonalds for what it is – America’s new church, as he so eloquently puts it in the film.  Speaking of Ray Kroc, Michael Keaton cannot be praised enough.

I don’t know why this movie was buried at Awards time.  If pushed more, Keaton could have gotten a nomination.  To put it simply, he’s engaging as hell.  This is a perfect movie character to follow for two hours.  He’s sympathetic, but selfish.  He’s slimy, but admirable.  Ray Kroc could have easily been your typical jackass business schmuck, but you understand why he does the things he does.  The beginning shows Ray at his lowest point, so we immediately empathize with him.  While it’s easy to side with the non-greedy brothers, had they been more flexible, who knows what could have happened.  While Ray is a slime bag, we respect him for thinking big.  That’s the whole crux of his character.  He’s a man trying to drain every ounce of potential from a really good idea.  While Keaton is brilliant throughout, it’s not until the final scene where he has his true Mark Zuckerberg hitting refresh moment where he truly cements his performance.

Speaking of Zuckerberg, it’s impossible not to think of The Social Network when watching this.  It’s eerily similar.  Let’s see, two brothers unload their entire idea to an ambitious entrepreneur who makes it a hundred times bigger, effectively pushing the creators out.  Hmmmm.  The biggest difference is we sympathize a hell of a lot more with the McDonald brothers than the Winklevoss twins.  Let’s be honest – we loved seeing the Winklevoss twins get hosed.  Not these guys.  The McDonalds are the most genuine burger flippers of all time.  They just want to make quality burgers really fast in a family friendly environment.  We respect their stubbornness to keep their product pure, which often holds Ray’s rapid expansion ideas back.  These are the guys who don’t want special edition Star Wars movies, and Ray is the jerk who knows there’s a ton of money to be made by re-releasing them with an inferior product.  This is the conflict that drives the movie.

The brothers are Mac and Dick McDonald, played by John Carroll Lynch and Nick Offerman respectively.  They are fantastic.  Dick is the real idea man, while Mac is the more good-hearted brother.  Their bond is the real heart of the film.  I still can’t separate Offerman from Ron Swanson, but he’s perfect for this role.  He runs McDonalds like a taskmaster, but a highly respected one.

We see how much of a ball buster Dick is when him and Mac tell the story of how McDonalds got started.  We see the intricacies of how fast food works.  This is a wonderfully directed scene, and one of my favorites from 2016.  It’s gorgeous to watch, and the music could not have been better.  It will be impossible for me not to think of this scene next time I go to McDonalds.

While the movie is filled with great moments such as that, it’s definitely flawed.  The relationship between Ray and his wife, Ethel, played by Laura Dern, is dead in the water.  To the movie’s credit, that’s kind of the point, but we need something there.  This is where Ray is probably the most reprehensible.  Ray does develop a relationship with another female character, played by Linda Cardellini, which works a lot better.  Again, that’s probably the point.

Despite some extremely convenient plot elements, this is a tightly told tale, and a run time of two hours that flies by.  While there’s some lulls in the middle, the last half hour is very strong, including a beautifully written moment between Ray and Dick, where Ray reveals what truly makes McDonalds special.  That was brilliant.  Along with the soundtrack, Carter Burwell’s score was also great.  This has been buried beneath all the Oscar movies, but it’s one that shouldn’t be ignored.  And yes, as I’m sure a ton of other reviewers have pointed out, it will make you want to eat McDonalds afterwards.  That last line was unavoidable.

Rating: 8 out of 10 (Great)

Daniel Cohen is the hard-boiled Film Editor for the Pop Break. Besides reviews, Daniel writes box office predictions, Gotham reviews and Oscar coverage. He can also be found on the Breakcast. If Daniel was sprayed by Scarecrow’s fear toxin, it would be watching Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen on a non-stop loop.