“The Founder” movie review

thefounderOutstanding biopic that typifies what the American dream actually looks like–but that’s the scary part. Michael Keaton’s portrayal of Ray Kroc, the (self-proclaimed) “founder” of McDonald’s, is positively brilliant! Comparing his look and performance to the real Ray Kroc seen before the credits roll, there is no doubt that director John Lee Hancock (known for The Rookie and The Blind Side) made the right choice. The Founder takes us on a journey from Southern California to Illinois and beyond as we follow the course of events that radically revolutionized an entire industry and gave birth to one of the most recognized brands in the world as well as the very concept of modern franchising. What Henry Ford did for American motorcars, Kroc did for American “speeedee” service food. Ray Kroc realized the American dream by stopping at nothing until he built his empire, even if it meant stealing from a business and breaking up a marriage–all within the confines of the law. We’ve all heard about “the American dream;” well, The Founder depicts what it takes for that dream to come true. If you’re willing to be a cut-throat bully with few if any inhibitions, then you can build an empire and claim to be the founder of another’s company or even run a country.

This biopic drama tells the story of how Ray Kroc (Keaton), a 55 year-old milkshake machine salesman from Illinois, met Mac (John Carroll Lynch) and Dick (Nick Offerman) McDonald in San Bernardino, CA during a sales transaction that would start something big. Who would’ve guessed that a man who was the definitive door-to-door salesman would see great potential in a small-town burger joint. Recognizing the great potential for a successful franchise, Kroc entered into a business proposition that would change the quick service food industry forever and essentially perfect the business practice of franchising. Over a relatively short amount of time, Kroc maneuvered himself into a position of power and dominance over the brothers, and eventually took the very company they founded away and never looked back. Kroc stopped at nothing when appropriating the intellectual property of the McDonald brothers to build a vast empire that would find its way into thousands of towns and become just an American an icon as the flag, churches, or the eagle.

Although the film is presently foundering in box offices, it is definitely worth a watch because of depicting the story of one man’s American dream that would essentially steal the laurels from baseball and apple pie to become a larger than life symbol of America recognized throughout the world. It’s unfortunate that this film is not garnering more attention because the writing, directing, and acting are absolutely brilliant. Full of irony and ambiguity, The Founder could have easily been called or at least subtitled Birth of a Salesman. While watching the movie, I could not help but compare the plot of this film with the iconic play Death of a Salesman by Arthur Miller. Both tell stories of salesman but the end result is vastly different. Both Willy Loman and Ray Kroc were dedicated to their respective craft of salesmanship; however, Kroc took the practice of sales and pitches to the next level–in fact he created his own game in which only he could win. Where else have we seen a bully play by his own rules and build an empire into a brand in and of itself? I’ll allow you to draw that conclusion. Further irony can be seen in Ray Kroc’s surname. His sheer cunning, predatory ways of conducting business can easily be likened to the crocodile itself. Despite receiving credit for inventing the fast food assembly line, much like Ford did for American car manufacturers, the “speedee” service was invented by Dick and Mac McDonald of San Bernardino. Thankfully, the brothers are receiving the credit that they deserve–albeit posthumously.

It’s difficult not to root for the villain in this film. Even though you tell yourself that he was a monster and a complete leach to the McDonald brothers, his first wife, and other friends, you may still find yourself in his corner because of McDonald’s being the American icon that it is. The cognitive dissonance that many will experience during diegesis of this film is fascinating in and of itself. Early on, you will find yourself rooting for Ray Kroc because he comes off as an underdog. He is able to provide decently for him and his wife, but it is evident that his business is in the process of collapsing. Even after striking the proverbial deal with the McDonald brothers, you may still root for him because the brothers make it difficult for Kroc to actually engage in successful franchising. The tide begins to subtly shift when the chain begins to take off. When the brothers deny Kroc a request to renegotiate the terms of the contract in order to boost capital and revenue, Kroc hires a new business partner who provides the knowhow to shift the focus from running a burger chain to being a real estate mogul. That shift from only burgers to real estate is what truly built McDonald’s Corporation into the giant that it is today. Interestingly, when confronted by the brothers on a break in the contract, Kroc points out that they could take him to court and probably win, but by the time he would drag them through hearing after hearing, and trial after trial, the brothers would be completely bankrupt. Much like the milkshake substitute that boosted revenue and mitigated refrigeration costs, but contained no milk, a handshake deal with Kroc is just as fake.

The set designs and costumes in The Founder are impressive and so incredibly well executed that audiences will be transported from 2017 to 1950s America. From the cars to the architecture to the print advertising and marketing, this movie boasts an authenticity that is on par with larger budget period films. The supporting players in the film are equally captivating too. Parks and Rec‘s Nick Offerman and John Carroll Lynch are absolutely perfect as the McDonald brothers, and I cannot think of two better actors to bring these “hidden figures” of fast foot history to life. It’s unfortunate that Laura Dern is underutilized as Ethel, Kroc’s first wife, because she is a dynamic actress capable of adding significantly to a film. Although not featured on screen a lot, Patrick Wilson plays Rollie Smith, an early investor, but his acting excellence is still showcased well. Finally, Linda Gardellini is captivating as the future Mrs. Ray Kroc–problem is, that she is married to Rollie Smith at the time they meet. It’s her suggestion to switch from real ice cream and milk to instant milkshake powder that sets the final dominos in motion to topple the McDonald brothers. In continued irony, the story of McDonald’s contains people who are excited about fake food product. But those were the times the characters lived in. The chemistry between the characters helps to reinforce the authenticity of this biographical motion picture.

Ray and Joan Kroc are well known philanthropists–in their later years. In fact, Joan Kroc left most of her vast fortune to many charities. The most well-known recipient of the inheritance is NPR. Even today, if you listen to the programming, you will hear the Estate of Joan Kroc mentioned as a supporter of the public radio organization. Whether you appreciate NPR or not, one cannot help but think that all the philanthropy of the Kroc (namely Joan) is a result of easing the conscience since the Kroc fortune can be likened to blood money. It’s entirely plausible that much like Marion Crane figuratively cleanses her spirit in the infamous Psycho shower after having stolen the money from her employer, Joan may have very well given her fortune away in an effort to ease her conscience and do good with the figuratively ill-gotten money.

Such an incredibly fascinating movie! If you enjoy historical dramas about American icons, then you will definitely enjoy The Founder. It may prompt you to grab a McDonald’s burger and fries after the movie or perhaps never go there again after learning the company’s history. Whatever the case, it cannot be denied that the story of McDonald’s is incredibly interesting and IS the product of persistence and business ingenuity. If there is anything inspirational to take away from this film, it is the power of that persistence and looking for potential in the most unlikely of places.

Written by R.L. Terry

Edited by J.M. Wead

“The Kings of Summer” movie review

KOS-PosterA unique coming-of-age story in the vein of Stand By Me. However, unlike the more conventional coming of age stories, the subtext and themes of then first-time feature director Jordan Vogt-Roberts’ film, written by Chris Valletta, are merely touched upon but seldom followed through in any meaningful way. The deadpan comedy and one-liners are simply tossed around instead of providing deeper meaning or introspect that may have increased the emotions felt throughout the movie. It’s a very surface level movie that fails to substantially deliver the dynamic quality narrative that is typically expected of these films. That isn’t to say that it is without merit; quite the contrary, it is enjoyable and is successful in taking you back to that time when you felt that no one understood you and you wanted to be treated like an adult, but still clung to the reckless freedom of hormonal youth. Understanding the consequences of one’s behavior is a regularly visited theme in the movie. With gorgeous outdoor cinematography and relatable characters, The Kings of Summer contains a little something for everyone who has ever thought of running away and building a cabin in the woods for you and your buds.

The Kings of Summer is about three teenagers Joe (Nick Robinson), Patrick (Gabriel Basso), and Biaggio (Moises Arias) who run away from their respective dysfunctional families and make a life for themselves out in the woods by building a house and living off the land. Ever since Joe’s mother died, he just does not get along with his father Frank (Parks and Rec‘s Nick Offerman). In turn, his father has anger and resentment issues he too is working through with the untimely passing of his wife. Unfortunately, Frank takes out his anger on Joe and both have nearly become alienated from one another. Making valid points about Joe’s behavior but not delivering those points with understanding, Frank and Joe just do not get along. With Patrick also not getting along with his helicopter parents (Megan Mullally and Marc Even Jackson), Joe convinces him to join with their new friend Biaggio and rule their own lives and answer to no one except each other. Forming a friendship pact, the three seem inseparable. However, even this three-fold cord has struggles and disagreements, jealously and rage. The young men are forced to work through life’s problems while dealing with the chemical and psychological changes of growing up.

Have you ever just wanted to escape life? Just quit and run away to a tropical island or mountain valley? That is just what you will encounter in The Kings of Summer. Coming-of-age stories are usually some of the films that find their way onto favorite lists or those to which so many people can relate because they deal with issues many of us face while in that transitional time from teenager to adult. From lakeside high school parties to hormones and independence, this film includes some of the various turning points and learning opportunities one likely encounters while discovering who he or she is. Ordinarily, films such as this, deliver the content in such a way that it offers deeper meaning or emotional connections in the narrative. And although there are some themes and moderate introspect, the film does not go far enough in connecting the audience with the teenagers or adults in the movie. There were several lines of dialog that alluded to potential conflicts and personal struggles that could have been revisited to offer more substance in the film. That being said, the writer and director do provide relatable characters who are each very different from the other in an effort to provide audiences with a character to whom they can identify. It is important for coming-of-age movies to not only contain relatable characters but relatable situations as well. And this movie does that, just not to the extent it had the capacity to do.

One of the interesting themes that can be read in The Kings of Summer is questioning one’s sexual orientation. Much like in Wes Craven’s A Nightmare on Elm Street 2, in which the protagonist’s sexual orientation is questionable, you can find similar themes in this film. Throughout the movie, Joe is regularly making speeches on and offering up pithy comments about masculinity. Quite regularly, Joe lectures Patrick and Biaggio about what it means to me a man. At times, Joe even becomes defensive when his masculine ways are questioned. As Shakespeare penned, “…thou doth protest too loudly…” It is entirely possible that Joe is struggling to come to terms with his sexual preferences. This could explain why he would go to such drastic measures to escape his rigid father in order to discover who he is when he has to provide for himself. Other supporting evidence of this theme is simply the fact that he doesn’t get the girl even though he tried much more than Patrick. When Patrick winds up with the girl, Joe is outraged and never quite gets over it. There are also the frequent trips to Boston Market instead of truly “being a man” and hunting for food. Maybe he’s simply trying too hard to deny who he is developing to be? Perhaps. But, there are additionally also other themes that can be read in this unique coming-of-age story.

Although this film did not receive the national attention in 2013 that it really should have, it is definitely one that is worth a watch if you enjoy this sub-genre of Drama. Ordinarily, ensemble casts can hinder effective character development and excellent storytelling, but the cast in this film is handled moderately well. If there had been more focus on the personal struggles or if the film included an external goal, then it would have definitely been better and perhaps more popular. Stories in general–especially visual stories–require the principle characters to not only have internal goals, but a clearly defined external goal as well. Often the external goal can echo the internal one, but it is important to show a tangible goal. Unfortunately, the latter is lacking in the diegesis of The Kings of Summer. This movie won’t likely ever have the nostalgia or cache of Stand By Me, but it does offer up a fun story with an excellent cast and some personal growth that will keep you entertained for the hour and a half runtime.

You can catch Ryan most weeks at Studio Movie Grill Tampa, so if you’re in the area, let him know and you can join him at the cinema.

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