Michael Keaton continues his hot streak with The Founder. It’s the biopic you didn’t know you wanted or needed and it explores how Ray Kroc transformed McDonald’s into the empire it is today.
We flash back to 1954. Ray is on the road peddling multi-mixers — a gadget that allows you to mix multiple milkshakes at once — at drive-in diners. He’s slogging through the Heartland. Broke, desperate, but earnest in his belief that persistence will deliver him success. Assuming the large order he’s gotten in from California must be a mistake, he uses a payphone at another dingy diner to dial up his customer. On the other end of the line it’s the original McDonald’s. They are slammed and the man on the other end of the line has no time for small talk, he ups his order, drops an address and hangs up the phone leaving Kroc utterly perplexed. Bewildered, but fascinated, Kroc heads out to San Bernadino to see what the fuss is about, and then things really get rolling.
In a scene that’s delightful — if almost unfathomable for those of us who’ve never lived in a world without fast food — Ray Kroc discovers McDonald’s. He looks at the massive line and the jolly staff like the greatest gifts one can imagine, but we can practically feel his mind boggling when he steps up to order, receives his food nearly instantly and interrogates the youth at the counter — what of the dishes and cutlery, where is he to eat his food? Charmed, he sits on a bench and eats a hamburger that inspires adoration in him — and everyone else. And then he’s like Sean Parker at the Facebook party, he HAS to get in. We meet Mac (John Carroll Lynch) and Dick McDonald (Nick Offerman) and we hear their story. It’s a sweet little tale that restores a childlike sense of wonder to your view of McDonald’s — then Croc swoops in with his grand plans for expansion and franchising and we watch him spin that utopian vision of fast, delicious burgers in a wholesome environment into the mega-corporation we all know today. It’s a slick and savvy business profile that gives Keaton lots and lots and lots of room to stretch out. Keep an eye out too for B.J. Novak as a slippery (but visionary) lawyer, Laura Dern as Kroc’s long-suffering wife and Linda Cardellini as the only person who can distract him from his vision for the Golden Arches.
Offerman and Lynch are positively delightful in their turns as the McDonald’s brothers, but whether fairly or not, they’re never a match for Kroc and his drive. They’re the ideal, but Ray is the big shining star. We watch him give everything for the promise of getting everything. We watch as the making of a brand becomes the unmaking (or as he would put it remaking) of a man. The Founder is fascinating, and compulsively watchable. It’s an under-the-radar entry that’s well-worth your time, especially in a stretch of the cinematic year that’s dotted with questionable offerings.