September 27, 2022

Gabbing Geek

Your online community for all things geeky.

Geek Review: The Founder

The story of the man who made McDonald's what it is today at the expense of the two brothers the chain was named after.

Back in 2001, I entered a Ph.D program.  Though I never did get that doctorate, I was a Teaching Fellow for a time at the university in question, and for me that meant I was required to teach a full class of English I or II depending on the semester every fall and spring.  For my first semester, I was given the program director’s syllabus to use as my own with the expectation I would in the future create my own from scratch.  That syllabus required me to teach the book Fast Food Nation by Eric Schlosser.  It’s a good book chronicling the rise of the fast food restaurant in the United States and beyond, with all the repercussions those places have on people everywhere.  I basically gave up fast food for a number of years as a result of that book.

The point is I basically already know the story of McDonald’s “founder” Ray Kroc.  But that didn’t stop me from seeing director John Lee Hancock’s biopic of the man all the same.  How was it?

Interesting, though I think it would have been better served with a slightly different focus.

The movie opens with Kroc (Michael Keaton) trying to sell a milkshake machine to various drive-ins around the country when his secretary tells him some place out in San Bernadino, California wants to order six.  The machines in question can mix five shakes at once.  Who could possibly need 30 at once?  Kroc doesn’t get it, so he calls the restaurant to see if there was some mistake.  He gets one of the owners on the line, and it turns out there is a mistake.  They don’t want six mixers.  They want eight.

Intrigued and confused, Kroc drives out to San Bernadino where he meets the McDonald brothers.  Mac (John Carroll Lynch) is a gregarious, friendly guy, more than happy to give Ray a tour of their establishment once he finds out who he is.  Dick (Nick Offerman) is the perfectionist who invented the food preparation system that made McDonald’s a local favorite.  Essentially, Dick invented an assembly-line system that basically means every order is delivered to the customer within 30 seconds of the order.  It’s actually a rather ingenious system as explained by Mac and Dick, and Kroc, being the persistent salesman that he is, decides he wants in to help the two franchise the hell out of the McDonald’s brand.

But as good as Keaton is as the less-than-scrupulous Kroc, I spent the movie wanting it to be more about Mac and Dick, the two guys who are ultimately screwed out of their own name.  Yes, it took Kroc to build the empire; a pivotal scene at the end more or less explains why.  But these two guys were basically a pair of guys who were more or less happy doing their thing in San Bernadino with modest goals in life that got steam-rolled by the man they brought in as a business partner.  Kroc never really had an original idea of his own during the course of the movie.  Most of what he has was originally thought up by Dick.  The brothers even tried franchising before they met Kroc.  The design, the system, the name, none of that was Kroc.  That doesn’t stop him from gradually taking over everything and telling everyone he’s the founder of the company.

Quite frankly, there was something vaguely familiar about Kroc.  He comes across as the sort of sleazy businessman that abuses the system to his own benefit, not caring who he steps on along the way.  He’s charismatic, but someone many probably regretted doing business with in the long run.  He even leaves a rather patient wife (Laura Dern) in his wake and later marries a younger one (Linda Cardellini).  None of this is actually news to anyone who knows anything about Kroc and his life, but Hancock does what he can to keep the movie itself interesting even as it seems to hit the familiar beats of a biopic about a guy like Kroc.  I don’t think we’re meant to admire him all that much.  Perhaps the movie is meant more as a warning than anything else to the Macs and Dicks of the world.

As it is, aside from wishing the movie was about Mac and Dick instead of Ray, I thought it was rather well done.  Eight and a half instant milkshake packs out of ten.


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