The Founder

by Greg Vellante

EDGE Media Network Contributor

Friday January 20, 2017

Michael Keaton stars in 'The Founder'
Michael Keaton stars in 'The Founder'  

"The Founder" is the inspirational true story of how one man muscled his way to the top of the capitalist rat race by gaming the system and essentially stealing the innovative production model of two small business owners to create a gargantuan consumerist restaurant chain. As a bonus, he also uses his success to trade in his boring wife in for a younger, more exciting model.

Reports indicate we already have an early frontrunner for our new president's favorite film of 2017.

Of course, unless you're a money-grubbing megalomaniac, the aforementioned doesn't sound so inspirational, does it? It sounds awful, which "The Founder" ultimately is, taking an admittedly interesting true story and transforming it into one of the most tone-deaf celebrations of asshole entrepreneurialism I've ever seen.

Movies like "The Wolf of Wall Street" and "Steve Jobs" understood themselves as films about unlikeable money monsters, but "The Founder" ignorantly jettisons any real critical scrutiny of its ugly-hearted protagonist. Instead, it is replaced with a triumphant tone that is almost indistinguishable when compared to something like "Hidden Figures," which honored the relatively unknown efforts of the black, female mathematicians responsible for major developments in the NASA's first successful space mission.

Ray Kroc (Michael Keaton) is handled with just as much respect and admiration for turning two brothers' fast food eatery and innovative "speedy system" into this restaurant chain called McDonald's, which you may have heard of. It's an engaging story told with quirks and some standout performances (Nick Offerman and John Carroll Lynch as Dick and Mac McDonald steal the show), but its trajectory is focused far too much on Kroc's descent into greed while masquerading as a story about his ascent towards success. In title cards at the end, the film seems to wear the fact that Kroc screwed the McDonald brothers out of $100 million a year in royalties like a twisted badge of honor.

And then there's the film's rampant sexism, where the wonderful Laura Dern is slapped with a thankless role as Ray's wife, Ethel, whose only real on-screen motivations are directly related to her husband's actions. Ray is consistently neglecting her and eventually divorces her for a younger, blonder woman (while also breaking up her marriage). Any other dialogue by women in the film is brief, and usually consists of something along the lines of "Can I take your order?"

The film is ugly and mean-spirited, but doesn't seem to recognize that. Ray is painted as both a hero and a jerk, and the film wants you to sympathize with him. There is an abundance of mirrors throughout the film, which I assume is director John Lee Hancock's way of lazily setting up a heavy-handed metaphor for how this movie holds a mirror up to society. It doesn't work. During the final scene, as Ray practices a speech in front of a mirror, I was reminded of Paul Thomas Anderson's "Boogie Nights" -- as in, both films end with the reflections of a huge dick.