Movie Review: The Founder (2016)

Posted: May 19, 2017 in Movie Reviews
Tags: , , ,

The_Founder_posterThe Founder (2016)

Starring- Michael Keaton, Nick Offerman, John Carroll Lynch, Linda Cardellini, B.J. Novak, Laura Dern, Justin Randell Brooke, Kate Kneeland, Patrick Wilson, Griff Furst, Wilbur Fitzgerald

Director- John Lee Hancock

PG-13- brief strong language

Trailer- https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AX2uz2XYkbo

How Ray Kroc (Michael Keaton) stole the idea for McDonald’s and built a fast food empire.

Remember David O. Russell’s Joy in 2015? Yeah, me neither. Anyway, The Founder has the same core problem: a nearly magical reverence for a silly product that walks the whole thing right up to the edge of self-parody and keeps it there. There’s a scene early on where Ray Kroc tours the McDonald brothers’ first restaurant and the movie shares in his awestruck wonder at the sight of garbage hamburgers being made very quickly, like we’re witnessing the Wright brothers’ first flight; from that moment on, I knew this movie and I were going to have problems. I was right, for the most part.

Though The Founder isn’t all that bad in most other respects; it just never overcomes its unstable mixture of original ideas that don’t quite work and its tendency toward convention. Believe it or not, there’s actually a halfway interesting story buried in here; I’m just not sure John Lee Hancock, traditionally a director of sweet, middle-of-the-road Oscar bait, the sort of movies your grandparents like, is the best fit for it. Of course, the mere act of tackling a true story with shades of The Social Network, mixed with the message of The Wolf of Wall Street, makes The Founder Hancock’s most interesting film in a while, maybe ever, but still not as interesting as it would be under the guidance of someone better able to capture the darkness and cynicism such a story requires.

If it has any kind of thesis, it’s that Ray Kroc was a complete bastard, and it goes quite a long way toward proving that point. The movie halfway functions as a two-hour Adam Ruins Everything on McDonald’s, except that everyone already knew McDonald’s was terrible; this will merely expand your understanding of its terribleness to include that Kroc stole a couple of small-town entrepreneurs’ idea out from under them, used legal loopholes to take near-complete control of a company of which they were part-owners, accumulated so much money that he knew he could ruin them if they rightfully sued him, eventually bought them out, denied them the annual royalties from the company they founded, made them legally incapable of putting their own name on future restaurants, and finally, because he was a bastard, opened a McDonald’s across the street from their local burger joint and put them out of business. The Founder isn’t quite trying to make you hate this guy; he is, after all, the protagonist, and the movie tries to get at some core part of his humanity. But it never makes him out to be misunderstood or wounded. He’s a fairly ordinary person at the start; the movie simply tracks the ways in which he increasingly gains access to the resources and power that enable him to become worse. And there is a story there — parts of this movie reminded me a bit of the Martin Scorsese tactic Film Crit Hulk talked about in that article I shared a few weeks ago, criticizing its subject by making the best possible argument for it and showing the ways in which it still falls short. What Silence was to religious faith, The Founder tries to be/accidentally is to capitalism, basically arguing that predation is inherent to the system, that every decision Kroc makes is the right one from a business standpoint, and that in order for the economy to work, someone has to screw over the McDonald brothers of the world. Capitalism is where the dreams of innocent guys who just want to make burgers goes to die, basically. And seeing that from Kroc’s perspective makes it a little more difficult to write him off as a horrible person. A little more. Because what he says and does makes sense and may even be necessary, so is his only crime that he enjoys it a little too much?

It’s more thought-provoking than your average Hancock movie, and I appreciate it in that sense. I just think it, like the McDonald brothers, doesn’t know exactly what it has on its hands — how close it is, how fascinating this story could be, how unique and memorable. Compared to other “bad guy gets everything he wants, dies happy” movies, like The Wolf of Wall Street, it doesn’t involve its audience as well, doesn’t implicate viewers as the ones who necessitate, enable, and ultimately justify the behavior of those who exploit us to wealth and power. There’s no challenge here, not even one that goes inward, targeting Kroc himself — as a character study, it never gets to the root of what makes him the man he is; it never invites us to relate to specific flaws he has that turn him toward a dark path. He’s a ruthless businessman who becomes even more ruthless, and the movie fails to establish why that should be important to us.

Other than that, it’s a fairly typical biopic, one that covers the basics without communicating their significance. There’s the main character, and then there’s a bevy of historical figures included because they were there when it happened but not given much weight as a part of the story being told. Laura Dern’s part (Kroc’s first wife) is like a case study in female representation in media; not for one single, solitary second of this movie’s run-time does she get to do anything other than look sad because her husband is not paying attention to her.

All in all, The Founder lands in that unfortunate ground where it’s more than I expected and less than it should be — it resolves one’s doubts quickly enough to disappoint you when it doesn’t do much more than that. I GUESS IT’S KIND OF LIKE WHEN YOU GO TO MCDONALD’S BECAUSE YOU’RE REALLY HUNGRY AND IT TASTES GOOD BUT THEN YOU START TO FEEL LIKE IT WAS A BAD IDEA okay I’ll stop now.

REMINDER: Don’t worry; I didn’t forget! Here’s the more formal announcement — The Founder officially wraps up 2016 for me. I still want to see Asghar Farhadi’s latest, but Netflix doesn’t even have a date on that yet, so it isn’t worth holding out until then. That means Writers Block Parade has one more 2016 post — the Top 20 — forthcoming. After that, I’m shutting it down. I still can’t say when that will be. I want to re-watch the 2016 movies to which I have access to finalize it. I’d say the Top 20 is up by mid-June at the latest. I am prepared to announce this much — the site will be shut down a week after I publish that post. I’m moving to matttriponey.wordpress.com. Follow me there for continued musings. Thank you!

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