THE FOUNDER Review
Director: John Lee Hancock
Genre: Drama, Biopic
It’s the mid-50s. An ambitious man stumbles upon a new restaurant concept run by two brothers. He forms a partnership with them in order to take this idea to new heights. He wants the world to know about it. But he gets greedy. With time he sees the two brothers as little more than an eyesore, and finds a way to cheat them out of the business. This is the story of McDonald’s. It is also the story of THE FOUNDER. And if you haven’t picked up on it yet, it’s basically THE SOCIAL NETWORK, but with burgers.
As I had mentioned in my LION review not too long ago, The Weinstein Company is somewhat of the lowest common-denominator in the Oscar race. Their bets are safe and consistently lazy, but they work for old Caucasian voters. In a voter base that’s been largely ostracized for their lack of diversity, THE FOUNDER is a shining example of exactly why things need to change. It’s an obvious retread of stories that have been done better in the past. The film isn’t so much bad filmmaking as it is rather tasteless, so I suppose if anything, it’s got the aesthetic of a modern McDonald’s down pat.
Photo of the writers’ room
But THE SOCIAL NETWORK was amazing! If THE FOUNDER is like that film, how could it possibly be bad? Well, oddly enough, this is a really easy question to answer. Sadly, it all lies in Michael Keaton’s protagonist. For all of his acting chops as a man of capitalist bravura, Keaton just doesn’t have a rounded out anti-hero. This is, at its core, the story of a really charming man that lacks any ounce of empathy. It’s a character not much unlike Eisenberg’s evocation of Mark Zuckerberg. But with THE SOCIAL NETWORK, we still feel a sense of pity for this endlessly lonely Silicon Valley nut. As he stares blankly at the “add friend” option on the Facebook page of the girl that left him, we realize the tragic qualities of Fincher’s direction. This is a man who has everything except for happiness. THE FOUNDER just doesn’t operate this way, and it leaves you with a rather bad taste in your mouth, much like that feeling you get after eating 40 chicken nuggets on a drunken bender.
Director John Lee Hancock seems so concerned with telling the chronology of McDonald’s’s rise from local fast food store to worldwide emporium that he mostly forgets to create characters. And that’s not to say there aren’t actors to work with. Nick Offerman, John Carroll Lynch, Patrick Wilson, Linda Cardellini, and Laura Dern are all at his disposal. Most try their best to work with the material they’re given, but the film forces them to be nothing but catalysts for the next step in McDonald’s’s history. And honestly, that’s criminal. Laura Dern should never, ever be subjugated to playing a lonely housewife, and Nick Offerman proves that he has enough charm to carry the weight of this film on his back just as much as Michael Keaton.
Brave woman on left a little weary of clapping after Keaton screams “Give me an Oscar”
This left me wondering if maybe THE FOUNDER was falsely composed from the get-go. What if our main characters would have been Offerman and Lynch? What if we would have had to watch their empire grow and fall to pieces from their perspective only? What if Keaton had been a looming antagonist that exists on the periphery as little more than an occasional cruel phone call. This would have cemented THE FOUNDER’s intentions of chastising America’s dog-eat-dog philosophy, and it would have also just…well… been more interesting. As it stands now, THE FOUNDER is a film in which a man gets everything he wants, cheats people out of business, and is never even given a minute to have the mirror reflected back at him. In a way I admire Hancock for having the gall to never force a character arc into a deeply unlikeable protagonist, but there’s a desperate need for THE FOUNDER to make a more scathing comment about the culture that permits this financial cannibalism.
What’s also odd is how Hancock composes his film. Everything is presented to be really quick, sleek, and cool. It mirrors the efficiency of the modern fast-food joint, but I can’t help but laugh when I’m watching montages synced up to the creation of hamburgers. This gets even more bonkers when you realize that the music doesn’t really indicate what you’re supposed to be feeling. THE FOUNDER sort of plays like a weird cross between an actual McDonald’s advertisement and a critique of corporate greed. There’s a brief beat in the second act involving powdered milkshakes that has one wondering whether or not THE FOUNDER will actually make a point to address the health issues associated with consuming McDonald’s, but it never dares to go there. In fact, in the closing credits, the film makes sure to reassure us that McDonald’s has since started using milk in their products again. I’m sure this might have something to do with the thin legal ice that THE FOUNDER is skating on, but if you can’t competently criticize fast food and the financial greed that controls it, then why are you making this film?
This line of people are not here to see THE FOUNDER!
And that’s really what THE FOUNDER leaves you feeling. Why was this film even made? Who was it for? As entertaining as it is to watch Keaton be a terrible person for two hours, it’s kind of a sour experience. It’s interesting to watch a protagonist’s ego inflate to Biblical proportions over the course of a film, but what’s the credo behind the filmmaking? It doesn’t really surprise me that Hancock gave us THE BLIND SIDE and SAVING MR. BANKS. There’s nothing authentic at play here, no sincerity to the filmmaking. It’s just a mildly engrossing ride, plastered with the golden hue of the McDonald’s arches. But what does surprise me is how mean this film seems. Hancock fails to adequately make a statement about capitalist America. As such, THE FOUNDER plays out like THE WOLF OF WALL STREET, without any of the actual shaming necessary to make us come to terms with this deeply troubled protagonist. You can’t have your McFlurry and eat it too, Mr. Hancock.
Verdict: Do Not Recommend