There are two potential movies in John Lee Hancock’s The Founder.
One is the shocking tale of how two hardworking brothers with dreams of Hollywood fame work through the Great Depression and slowly build a landmark restaurant only to have it stolen from out from underneath them by a conniving, parasitic asshole.
The other is about that asshole.
The Founder is the second one, when it really should have been the first.
We all know McDonald’s—whether it’s because we eat there every week or because Super Size Me said it was bad. It’s literally everywhere and in many ways represents the greed, gluttony, and grotesqueness of America itself. However, of us don’t know the full story, which The Founder should surely tell but it doesn’t.
Instead of tracing the roots of the McDonald brothers, Dick and Mac (Nick Offerman and John Carroll Lynch)—which we get just the tiniest, but most utterly fascinating snippet of— The Founder shows the rise of traveling salesman Ray Kroc who is just your average joe who keeps swinging for a big hit yet just keeps missing.
In far too many ways, The Founder feels more like a less stylized and exciting version of The Social Network in which a sleazy guy takes the idea of two brothers and through lying, scheming, and manipulation becomes the head of a multi-million dollar corporation.
That’s why The Founder feels like such a wasted opportunity, especially for someone like John Lee Hancock who is known for telling heartwarming and emotional tales like The Blind Side and Saving Mr. Banks. While it’s not his fault for the sloppy screenplay—that falls on Robert D. Siegel—there could have been extra attention given to the delightful duo of Offerman and Lynch who make the film actually fun and entertaining, rather than slimy with Keaton. On top of that—in a year of tremendous strives forward for women in film—Ethel Kroc, played by the tremendous Laura Dern, is appallingly written. Surely a delightful woman, she’s reduced to a few lines as Ray constantly speaks over her and controls her all while not one single good thing happens to her throughout the film. Yeah, we get that it’s done to emphasis the ass-y-ness of Ray—but come on, man.
Much of the film’s entertainment comes from the duo and also just the story. While the script is sloppy at times, it’s still just an interesting tale to find out what happened, even if it isn’t done with the grace or excitement that other directors would have given it. Keaton is deliciously evil to watch, but we’re left with not many heroes to root for or any real reason to be happy when the movie finally crawls to a finish after nearly two hours.
So just like your average meal at McDonalds, The Founder might be somewhat tasty and fulfilling, but once it’s been digested you’re really only left with a stomachache and the feeling like you probably could have had something much better.