Friday, May 12, 2017

The Founder *** (2016)

The Founder tells the story of Ray Kroc, the man who popularized McDonalds and fast food culture.  Played with subtle menace by Michael Keaton, Kroc's story is an all too familiar one in the lives of successful Americans.

Kroc begins as a typical Willy Loman type, a middle aged salesman barely eking out a living.  A seller of milk shake machines, one day Kroc discovers a revolutionary roadside restaurant managed by two brothers (Nick Offerman and John Carroll Lynch) who are able to serve delicious hamburgers and fries in under thirty seconds. Blown away by their system, Kroc begs the McDonald Brothers to franchise their idea.  They've tried before, but were unable to make it work.  Kroc convinced them into entering an agreement with him and he made it a regional and eventual national phenomenon.

The McDonald Brothers symbolized the mythical American idea of business: you have an idea, build a small business through hard work and guts, and make it thrive to improve the community.  Kroc's ethos looked further to the future, a business model of expansion, homogenization, and obliterating the competition. The brothers got a raw deal, representing a swath of the business community politicians pay lip service to every election, who at the same time arguing a corporation is a person.

Keaton brings humanity to an unlikable character. While struggling on the road he listens to Norman Vincent Peale records on the power of positive thinking after going through years of rejection.  He finds the country club world his wife yearns for, played by Laura Dern, static and dull.  Success changes him, but unlike the real estate men in Glengarry Glen Ross or the bible salesman in Maysles Brothers documentary Salesman, he triumphs over all. 

The art design and direction capture the 1950s as the decade is mostly remembered - all blistering sunshine boldly striving into the future.  In the current cultural moment Americana makes us nervous and pensive for a past we barely recognize, yet at the same time provides a burgeoning faith that the project is redeemable.

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