By: Debbie Wang
“Pure Dick magic” is a real sentence that a real actor said in a real movie about the “real” founder of McDonald’s. Though this line of dialogue got a big laugh from the audience, it surprisingly highlights the heart and soul of what McDonald’s once was – the ingenuity, passion, and *magic* touch of the McDonald brothers, Dick (Nick Offerman) and Mac (John Carroll Lynch).
At least up until the, wow, great Michael Keaton, who plays a snake of a businessman, Ray Kroc, shows up at the McDonald brothers’ restaurant and convinces them they need to franchise the business. Ray is immediately enthralled by the fast service and novelty of the operation and only becomes more interested when the brothers share their success story.
But his admiration for the brothers’ work ethic and their insistence for quality products quickly take a back seat once he’s able to start franchising more restaurants. With dollar signs in his eyes, Ray tries to renegotiate his franchiser fee, but the brothers don’t budge. His ideas always end up with him being rejected by the brothers and with him hanging up the phone with more anger than fervor. Frustrated by his lack of autonomy and control to make any changes to the restaurant operation, Ray, with the help of his financial consultant, Harry Sonneborn (B. J. Novak), finds a way to make the business and the law work in his favour and eventually incorporates the business.
Now a major corporation, McDonald’s is now void of Dick’s “pure magic” touch. Gone is the attention to quality products and in its place are milkshakes made from powdered milk. To Dick and Mac, this was blasphemous, firmly believing that a milkshake should be made with real milk! I can’t help but imagine Offerman channeling Ron Swanson at this point – “Be real milkshakes or be nothing!”
Under the direction of John Lee Hancock, The Founder is able to showcase the tenacity of Ray Kroc without making him seem like a villain in his own story, at least not until the third act. Though none of this could be possible without the McDonald brothers, the film is really about this one businessman who would stop at nothing to make this business a success. Hancock doesn’t entice you with gratuitous shots of juicy burgers. Rather, the single focus of the film is to follow Ray and how capitalism consumes his entire life.
That’s not to say that the film didn’t showcase how fascinating Dick and Mac’s story was. One of the best scenes in the film is the brothers explaining how they basically went from zeros to heroes. In an alternate fictionalized version of this film with a different company, most of the story line still would have worked; Ray’s just lucky that he happened upon this small restaurant in San Bernardino.
Where the film falls short is any look into Ray’s personal life. The secondary plot line about his wife, played by Laura Dern, who is unfortunately quite forgettable in this role, only serves as a catalyst for a future scene that further highlights Ray’s money-first mindset. We rarely see Ray outside of any business setting. We know that he’s a shrewd businessman, but does he even have any friends? The phrase “it’s not personal, it’s just business,” takes on more than one meaning in this film.
Just before the movie started, the lady introducing the film said that within five minutes I would be craving a McDonald’s hamburger. The reality is that I left the theatre with the thought of never stepping foot in a McDonald’s ever again, which is testament to how well this film came together. If Keaton wasn’t playing the part of mega-slime ball to perfection and if I didn’t feel so sympathetic for the McDonald’s brothers, I might have stopped by on my way home for an order of medium fries and some McNuggets. But as the film teaches us, sometimes you just can’t win against a big company with deep pockets. So while I can try to be angry at Ray Kroc and McDonald’s for a while, it’s probably short lived and will end the next time I hear “Ba Da Ba Ba Ba.”
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