Much was made of Matthew McConaughey’s renaissance, affectionately dubbed as The McConaissance’. While sounding like a new line of hamburgers at McDonalds, the role of Ray Kroc in The Founder fell into the lap of another actor enjoying something of a career rejuvenation, as Michael Keaton takes on the part of the man behind a restaurant that feeds 1% of the world’s population. Having been the lead star in both of the last two winners of Best Picture at the Academy Awards (Birdman, Spotlight) – this latest endeavour won’t ensure the actor makes it three in a row, and to be honest, you can see why.
Ray Kroc was a travelling businessman, desperately trying to offload milkshake machines to diners across the States. Out of the blue, one company made an order for six machines, and at first believing it to be an administrative error, for nobody needs that many milkshakes – when the opportunist arrives at the family-run, California based establishment he could see exactly why they were bringing in so many punters.
McDonald’s was set up by brothers Dick (Nick Offerman) and Mac McDonald (John Carroll Lynch), who appeared to have found a gap in the market, and an unprecedented system to ensure customers have their hamburgers within a minute. Before this, diners would often have half an hour waits, and complex menus, and would attract the wrong type of crowd (teenagers). McDonald’s is different, it’s all about speed, simplicity – and aimed at all the family. Kroc knows a good thing when he sees one, and so proposes the idea of a franchise to the somewhat reluctant siblings.
About halfway through this underwhelming biopic, directed by John Lee Hancock, the overriding sense that the story isn’t strong enough to sustain a feature length film kicks in, as a substandard narrative of a business idea coming good. But upon reflection, it’s not necessarily a fault of the story; it’s about how you tell it, and what you focus on. It’s here this film struggles, hence why the shortcomings in the narrative become so stark.
It’s only after the film has finished you realised that the key, and the paramount focus, should’ve been on sheer uncompromising business of the film’s leading character. It should be played on more, for his unethical means of business and the way he will walk over anybody to get what he wants is the most intriguing element of this story, yet The Founder avoids becoming the unforgiving character study it so should’ve been – or at least it takes far too long to establish. Rather than use the protagonist’s flaws as the overriding plot device, it gets lost in the making of this restaurant franchise, which follows all the generic beats of the biopic genre.
The film also has unnatural dialogue, and you always know it’s been written with the benefit of hindsight, with much superlatives and rhetoric about the McDonald’s brand, things you would only truly say if you had witnessed it’s growth across the past few decades. But while the negatives from within the company exist, as we witness the lies and deceit and the way the original owners, and innovators of this new way of eating out, were manipulated and exploited, the one thing that remains on your mind upon leaving the cinema after watching this film, is just how much you wanna eat McDonald’s. This might just be the best bit of promotion the brand could’ve got this year, cos damn those burgers look good.