Like Flat Soda, THE FOUNDER is Tepid and Has No Bubbles

The story of the commercialization of McDonald’s, a burger company that has transcended across the globe over the span of 70+ years, is worthy of your attention. It is a story of shady deceit, crushing dreams, and shitty milkshakes. At the helm of this is Ray Kroc (Michael Keaton), who connivingly rips away an ingenious business model for “speedy” food service from the hands of two well-meaning and innocent business men Dick and Mac McDonald (Nick Offerman and John Carroll Lynch), screwing them out of their royalties while he died a billionaire. It is an unhappy tale about a happy little restaurant turned conglomerate held up by a more than qualified cast. The fact of the matter is that the craftsmanship of this pseudo-biography picture matches the modern apathy for the company itself: Sure. I guess I’ll have McDonald’s, then I’ll go get some real food later and sleep it off.

Regardless of one’s opinion of Birdman, it is without a doubt the kicker to this latter portion of Michael Keaton’s success in his career, and it was a greatly welcomed return for those of us who are big fans of his career. For the past two years he’s found meaty work in two of the highest regarded films, with Birdman and Spotlight both taking home Best Picture awards. The latter’s success echoes this third outing in that it is another film that could have easily worked as a gripping documentary but managed to convey the sense of narration by making a compelling movie. The Founder falls completely flat though, with a film that is shoddily edited, blandly written without a sliver of characterization or conception of film dialogue, an awful relentless soundtrack, and just absurdly dull direction. This is by no means any of Keaton or his fellow actors’ fault, they are all serviceable in roles that each of these actors have done in their sleep by this point. So much so that it’s laughable seeing John Carroll Lynch revert back to his sweet natured big fella that was so perfectly and creepily inverted in last year’s The Invitation. There is sincerely nothing to grab on to with these characters, because the movie doesn’t understand that it’s a movie and not just a shittily compiled book report that director John Lee Hancock forgot he had do for fourth period today.

There are three scenes you will see constantly throughout The Founder as the film relies on repetition as though there really isn’t enough material of history to churn through over the course of two hours:

1. Ray Kroc gets on the phone with the McDonald’s brothers to complain about the stipulations of his contract. Dick (Offerman) stays firm but peeved at Kroc’s pestering. Mac (Lynch) assures his brother everything will be okay because Kroc couldn’t possibly be working to push them out of their own company could he? (Rhetorical: Offerman characters are always right about the assholes).

2. Ray Kroc goes back to his office to ho-hum about his money troubles. He drives around wistfully to his McDonald’s locations, which the subtitle displays the towns they are found in but could easily be read as “WE ONLY HAD TWO LOCATIONS”. He has long conversations with bank tellers and lawyers about his money troubles. You remember what it felt like being a kid and having to go to errands with your mom.

3. There is a conversation happening in front of or nearby a large mirror. There is no thematic significance to the mirror other than, “I DON’T KNOW HOW TO FRAME THIS SCENE OF TWO PEOPLE TALKING INTERESTINGLY LET ALONE WRITE ANYTHING INTERESTING FOR THEM TO SAY SO HERE’S THE CAMERA POINTED AT THEIR REFLECTION IN THE MIRROR TO FILL OUT THE FRAME”.

There are also scenes of Laura Dern wasting her goddamn time.

Like the failures of so many modern reboots of TV shows or movies, The Founder seems to assume its audience can fill in the blanks for all of these characters without doing any work to sketch in their characters. These characters are as valuable as reenacters for Unsolved Mysteries. Ray Kroc’s seedy scheme to get McDonald’s out from under the brothers should make for some snappy dialogue and impressive montages of burgers and fries being flung left and right, yet it almost never becomes remotely engaging. Ray’s rise to success is glossed over in a film that relies on so much boring dialogue to get us to the beginning and end point. The only moments the film feels wholesome, fittingly enough, are when the brothers give Kroc a tour of their tiny little goldmine and explain the thorough and innovative process of how they get their food out so speedily. The workers are quick and officiant, there’s a hustle and joyfulness both behind the counter and in the front of the line, and the awe in Kroc’s face as he witnesses the genius that the brothers created matches with the wheels turning in his head.

But there’s just simply not enough of that energy, which even in itself is still middling, to carry what should be a easily compelling story of the rise to fame from a man who had nothing to do with the inception of the company. There is visually no energy and anything that the film tries to do, the aforementioned ludicrous mirror shots or the one scene with the dramatic aerial shots, has as much ambition as a warmed over Big Mac. The way the film sticks important people from McDonald’s history in so forcefully is just awkward to watch, the dialogue does nothing to assure that these are anything other than names from history. We meet Fred Turner, a young fry cook who would eventually become the CEO of the company, and we know he’s important because he’s given a name. When he shows up what feels like hours later, it’s very easy to not realize this is someone we’ve already met. The less said about Linda Cardelinni, that blonde hair, and the fact that her character is married to Patrick Wilson but for no genuine reason -other than the people they’re based on- leaves him for the obviously much older Keaton, the better.

This isn’t by any means the worst movie, but you’ll get more value out of the real-life story by Wikipedia-ing this and in a fraction of the time.