Like many well-known brands, McDonald’s was catapulted to the top of the fast-food chain by a not-so-nice person, Ray Kroc.
In The Founder, Kroc, portrayed by Michael Keaton, is a struggling traveling salesman who discovers McDonald’s, a burger restaurant in San Bernradino, CA, owned by Dick and Mac McDonald. He convinces them to bring him on board so that he can successfully franchise their brand all over the country, promising to keep the integrity of their name.
And he does at first. Kroc is obsessed with maintaing the family-friendly environment that the McDonald brothers had finally established. He romanticizes the idea of family and wholesomeness. Like many Americans, Kroc is a dreamer. But it’s how he achieves his dreams–destructing everyone around him–that are unfortunate.
Just like The Founder is a lesson on how to succeed in business, it also shows the inherently flawed nature of the business world in America. To where Kroc has a flourishing business, yet is still drowning in debt and about to lose his house–forcing his hand to be greedy and dishonest and even more aggressive in order to survive. Combined with the success and fame getting to his head, it turns him into a monster. It’s a seamless transformation over the course of the film, to where we almost forget that he wasn’t like that in the beginning.
The Founder starts off as a nice period piece of the 1950s, throwing at us a ton of zeitgeist from that era. It’s about how the McDonald brothers were able to think outside of the box in order to push their popularity ahead of all their competition. It’s fun, loose, and nostalgic. But then it does something a little odd. 30 minutes in, it begins to introduce personal drama in Kroc’s life. Tension with his wife when there was none before. It feels forced, but since it happens early on and is present throughout the rest of the movie, we soon forget about how out of place it was. It just wouldn’t have been so jarring if they had started out the film with some of this drama. Because then we wouldn’t feel like a movie about McDonald’s has turned into a movie about Ray Kroc.
Taking some subtle pages from The Social Network, The Founder really makes Kroc comparable to Mark Zuckerberg. We like him much of the time–especially in the beginning–but then eventually we can’t stand him. But since we liked him at some point, there’s part of us that still has an affinity for him. Although, unlike Zuckerberg, Kroc’s opposition are extremely likable. We’re rooting for them the whole time. Kroc actually becomes the true antagonist of this story.
The brothers’ forward thinking gets them the successful restaurant in the first place, but then they set themselves in their ways and are eventually afraid to change at all when Kroc tries to make them. Kroc adapted much better to the rapidly growing capitalist America. The McDonald brothers wanted fame over fortune–to see their name all over the country–and got it. But that’s about all they got.
It’s really a sad film. It’s depressing. McDonald’s has always been one of those establishments that’s represented America–especially in the 20th century. Luckily this movie won’t tarnish those feelings. Because Super Size Me already did that.