A patriotic biopic on the rise of McDonald’s—the multi-billion-dollar restaurant empire that pays starvation wages and sells food causing a range of trademarked digestion symptoms, from McBloating to McHeartburn—is a strange concept to begin with. Don’t get me wrong, I’m really into the new Seriously Chicken Tomato and Mozzarella Sandwich. However, The Founder, just like the majority of McDonald’s menu, does not deliver.
The plot: in 1954, Ray Croc (played by Michael Keaton) is a travelling milkshake mixer salesman from Illinois. He discovers that McDonald’s, a restaurant in San Bernardino, has been purchasing a remarkable number of mixers. In hopes of increasing his sales, Croc decides to visit the restaurant and investigate. When he arrives, Croc is impressed by the restaurant’s quick service and quality burgers, and immediately sets up a meeting with the owners, brothers Maurice “Mac” and Richard, “Dick” McDonald.
Then comes the meeting: the Big Mac of unrealistic storytelling. For twenty minutes, Mac and Dick disclose every one of their trade secrets to Croc (a milkshake salesman they just met) in meticulous detail: the disposable packaging, the walk-up service, and the fast, assembly-line-inspired food production. Just like I can smell the waft of McDonald’s fries from hundreds of meters away, I can also distinguish the stink of lazy backstory scriptwriting.
Plot twist—Croc doesn’t steal and implement the McDonald’s ideas to open his own restaurants. Instead, he convinces Mac and Dick to allow him to franchise McDonald’s, which he does successfully. Croc then teams up with a financial consultant who shows him how to take over the growing restaurant chain from the McDonald brothers. Ultimately, Croc buys out the entire McDonald’s operation for 2.7 million and tricks the brothers into giving up billions of potential royalty dollars.
Ray Croc is not an underdog, and his only hardship appears at the beginning of the movie when he isn’t selling as many milkshake mixers as he’d like to. He’s an upper-middle-class businessman who rips off two other upper-middle-class businessmen and then becomes ultra-rich. A feel-good movie about McDonald’s shouldn’t be difficult. The recipe: a likeable protagonist, one cheeseburger-heavy plot, and a few close-up shots of Chicken McNuggets.