It’s a chicken and egg situation: which came first, the mass globalisation of American culture, or McDonald’s? From director John Lee Hancock, The Founder explores the origin story of the golden arches as it transports audiences back to the 50s, a time when everything was dripping with idealism, people said things like “swell” and the obesity epidemic was just a twinkle in “founder” Ray Kroc’s eye. If this movie cements any impression in its viewer’s mind, it’s that for better or for worse nothing stands out as more symbolic of American capitalism in the history of the 20th century than McDonald’s.
Michael Keaton steals the show as the anti-hero Ray Kroc, who goes from desperate but optimistic salesman to ruthless businessman in the space of a few scenes. Much like the restaurant itself, he’s the character people love to hate, the Trumpified American success story where dogged persistence and an unwavering confidence in yourself is all a person needs to succeed.
If anyone feels uncomfortable about a movie that celebrates fast food then they might be surprised, because what screenwriter Robert Siegel delivers is an unexpectedly thought-provoking take on the cut-throat nature of capitalism, served up in chirpy, easily disposable packaging. Ray Kroc’s ambition to turn McDonald’s into “the new American church” and his unwavering optimism on the merits of fast food can’t help but seem sinister when viewed in retrospect, and it’s this subtle social commentary that transforms The Founder from US propaganda into really clever satire – what else could be expected from a former editor of The Onion.
The real American myth-making happens through the story of the McDonald brothers themselves, the wholesome heroes of the States who founded their original restaurant in California with a commitment to family values and quality, but whose dream is ultimately destroyed by the twin beasts of crass commercialism and Kroc’s dishonesty.
The film is uncomfortable at points; what else is being celebrated here if none other than the worst aspects of the American Dream? The Founder‘s strength is that it doesn’t allow the audience to walk away feeling good about it.
Tarn Rodgers Johns
The Founder is released the on 17th February 2017.
Watch the trailer for The Founder here: