Golden Arches

Michael Keaton gives us the story of McDonald's in the Founder

click to enlarge Michael Keaton is as intense as ever as the king of fast food.
Michael Keaton is as intense as ever as the king of fast food.

Few things are more American than McDonald's, which is what makes The Founder rather horrifying. I found myself scribbling that word — horrifying — a lot during my viewing of the film, which condemns with its conclusion that the American dream at its apex is nothing more than rapacious bullshit.

The Founder is also clever and funny; the sharp script is by Robert D. Siegel. The story it tells is brilliant and kind of inspiring, until it turns frightening and even sinister. Its protagonist — Ray Kroc, McDonald's innovator and later something of a business cult leader, portrayed by the intense, superb Michael Keaton — is genius and evil in that banal way of greedy, insecure men; the film's protagonist is also its villain.

Director John Lee Hancock's previous movie was Saving Mr. Banks, about Walt Disney's attempt to twist a tough, true story into something cartoonish and suitable for mass entertainment, which is also how you might describe The Founder's Kroc in broad strokes. The Founder is, like almost every other story about anything quintessentially American, about the twisted, not even really hidden, driving force underneath it.

And it's not even about the food! This is not Super Size Me, not a denunciation of McDonald's as a dealer, pushing junk food on susceptible consumers. It's purely about the business side, and how the innovations Kroc brought to the industry radically changed America. Hell, the fast-food industry didn't exist before Kroc: he invented it, picking up the ideas meticulously designed by Dick (Nick Offerman) and Mac McDonald (John Carroll Lynch) of southern California and turning them into something that the brothers had no interest in pursuing: nationwide presence and success. And cheating them in the process, naturally. What's more American than that?

Keaton is absolutely mesmerizing in a — yes — horrific way with his vision of McDonald's as "the new American church," the golden arches a sight as iconic of America as church spires and the Stars and Stripes. What we're seeing here in The Founder is the beginning of the corporatization of civic spaces.

It's amazing. It's horrifying. It's America. ♦

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    About The Author

    Maryann Johanson