The holiday hangover is here.
We are almost through the first month of 2023. With December in the rearview mirror, we can put away “It’s a Wonderful Life,” “A Christmas Story” and “Die Hard” for another year.
Last weekend, I decided to watch another Michael Keaton film. I am working my way through the Keaton library of films. He’s one of my favorite actors and there are plenty of films to choose from.
This week, I decided to do “The Founder,” an underrated 2016 Keaton vehicle. In it, he plays Ray Kroc, the founder of McDonald’s. When we first meet Kroc, it’s 1954 and he’s a traveling milkshake machine salesman.
Kroc and his wife, Ethel (Laura Dern) reside in Arlington Heights, Illinois. The couple live a comfortable country club life, but Kroc wants even more. While traveling throughout the country selling milkshake machines, he observes that many of the drive-in restaurants that he tries to sell to are inefficiently run.
Kroc learns that a drive-in restaurant in San Bernardino, California, is ordering an unusually large number of milkshake mixers. He drives to California to get a first-hand look. When he pulls up, he finds McDonald’s — a popular walk-up restaurant with fast service, good food, disposable packaging and a family-friendly atmosphere.
Once Kroc sees the place, he arranges a meeting with the two McDonald brothers, Maurice “Mac” (“Big Sky’s” John Carroll Lynch) and Richard “Dick” McDonald (the always entertaining Nick Offerman). They give Ray a tour of the kitchen and he is instantly mesmerized with the restaurant.
He tries to convince the brothers to franchise, but they decline.
Kroc is devious and basically does whatever it takes to get McDonald’s franchised. Without giving much of the plot away, Kroc eventually convinces the brothers to franchise.
There are some fascinating details in “The Founder.” For example, while driving through a number of small towns, Kroc takes note of churches and government buildings, and then comes at the McDonald brothers with a new angle — McDonald’s restaurants can be a family-oriented place that means just as much to America as government and churches.
Dick is still skeptical about the idea, but Mac convinces his brother to trust Ray, given that he promises to uphold the quality of their restaurants.
When you think about it, McDonald’s still does that. They are planted in great locations throughout small-town America.
I didn’t grow up in a small town. However, in the suburbs of Pittsburgh, our McDonald’s was located just off McKnight Road, about a five-minute drive from my high school. On many Friday nights, students would gather in the parking lot to socialize in between downing numerous French fries and milkshakes, of course.
McDonald’s is a part of America’s history. “The Founder” gives us a firsthand look at how it got there. We probably shouldn’t like Kroc, but he was a visionary. His ideas truly made “fast food” a thing in our country — for better or worse.
But there are several slimy elements to him. He wants the McDonald’s name, even though it’s not his. He backs out of a handshake deal with the brothers and winds up divorcing Ethel. He tells the brothers that, like hearts, contracts “were made to be broken.”
“The Founder” is well done and entertaining. While the plot drags at times, the acting is superb. Chances are that you will really feel for the McDonald brothers. You certainly won’t love Kroc, but Keaton makes him tolerable.
If you watch “The Founder,” stick around for the epilogue, which features tidbits about Kroc and McDonald’s that you probably didn’t know.
“The Founder” is rated PG-13 for adult themes and language. It can be found on just about every streaming service, including AppleTV, Amazon, Google Play, Vudu and Tubi.
Chris Morelli is the assistant editor of The Centre County Gazette.