I was lucky enough to see John Lee Hancock’s The Founder in a theater before it all but disappeared in the winter of 2017. It’s a terrific, though flawed film, featuring awards-worthy performances by Michael Keaton, Nick Offerman, and John Carroll Lynch that were all, sadly, overlooked at awards time. At the time of the film’s release, some tasty award nominations, sprinkled about like salt on French fries, could have garnered this film the attention it deserved.
The Plot in Brief: Unsuccessful salesman Ray Kroc (Michael Keaton) pays a visit to a San Bernardino hamburger stand called McDonalds because its owners Dick and Mac (Nick Offerman and John Carroll Lynch) have ordered an unprecedented eight milkshake machines. The brothers proudly show Kroc their whole operation, which gets customers their food incredibly fast. Kroc convinces the brothers to allow him to franchise the rights to build McDonalds restaurants across the country. Through sheer force of will and persistence, Kroc builds the franchise into the burger empire we all know today... and begins a crusade to push out Mac and Dick.
I feel the filmmakers’ intent would have been better served by focusing more on the McDonald brothers and making Kroc a supporting character. This may be simply because John Carroll Lynch is one of my favorite actors and Dick McDonald is the role Nick Offerman was born to play, so I wish the two men were in the film more. Still, if the point of the film is that the actual originators of McDonalds Hamburgers were swindled out of their restaurant because they were two nice guys in over their heads, why not focus on them, the swindled, rather than the charming swindler?
Paradoxically, Keaton was the perfect choice to play Kroc because, without personal charisma, Kroc could never have sold the McDonald brothers on his original idea nor built the chain into the behemoth it is today. Maybe the perfect compromise would be to imagine a film told completely from the brothers’ POV, giving them more screen time and focusing on what originally made their restaurant so special... that is at first occasionally, and then incessantly, interrupted by a conniving, avaricious narcissist that keeps reappearing in the brothers’ lives to make them miserable.
Hmmmmm. Seems like there’s a story THERE.
Fortunately, the film does NOT suffer from what I like to call “Super-Size Me Syndrome,” wherein any film about fast food (even the virulently anti-McDonalds documentary Super-Size Me) winds up making the viewer insatiably hungry for the unhealthy eats on display. Perhaps because The Founder focuses on the business side of burgers and fries, I feel safe in saying that the film will not cause a “Mac Attack” in the average viewer.
It’s tasty stuff.