People throughout history have managed to become successful within a chosen profession, while still somehow managing to avoid being what you might call a successful human being even just a little bit. The Founder is a story about one of those people: Ray Kroc is a not-actually-all-that-down-on-his-luck milkshake machine salesman (seriously, he seems super frustrated about selling shitty milkshake machines but has a huge house and can afford to very literally drive all across the country throughout the entire film, presumably staying in hotels the entire time) who stumbles upon two brothers whose fast food restaurant in Southern California turns out tastier burgers at a faster rate than any other joint in the country. And Kroc knows, because his life on the road means he's been to them all. Initially, the McDonald brothers are hesitant, but Kroc pretty quickly convinces them to franchise their business and eventually cuts them right on out of the whole thing, effectively making them the Eduardo Saverins of their day.
Anchored by a breezy script, competent direction, and fantastic performances from Michael Keaton (Ray Crock), Nick Offerman, and John Carroll Lynch (Dick and Mac McDonald, respectively), The Founder is a pleasure to sit through. Moments like the McDonald brothers working out their Speedy System with an imaginary chalk kitchen on a tennis court are an absolute delight, and you'll more than likely leave the theater with a smile on your face. It'll only take about five minutes for the whole thing to fall apart, though, as the movie makes the critical mistake of not actually getting around to saying anything about the events it dramatizes.
Sure, it's fascinating to watch and learn about the ins and outs of building a franchise. Seeing how Ray Kroc went about stealing the McDonald's name and business right out from under them is certainly interesting, but the film ultimately fails to make a point about any of it all. So...stealing is bad? Authenticity will be swallowed up by consumerism/capitalism? Ray Kroc was two-faced as fuck? (He's certainly shot with mirrors nearby to make sure that we see several sides of him at once...get it?) These are the only thing that the movies manages to tell us, and none of these things seem particularly worth hearing. Wolf of Wall Street is the most immediate comparison that comes to mind: at least Belfort is shown bringing about the destruction of everything that he holds dear. Kroc literally upgrades his wife (in a shockingly tossed-off story note, just one of the many instances in which the film's huge editing problem rears its ugly head) and finishes out the movie in a Beverly Hills mansion. He literally finishes the film the way he started it — talking to the camera — only at the end he's doing it from what can only be described as an objectively improved situation.
The Founder could have easily been a timely — if pat, given the recent release and success of Wolf of Wall Street — cautionary tale, but instead winds up a swing and a miss. The three lead performances (the Dern is criminally underused; her scenes feel perfunctory at best) and a breezy script make this worth checking out if you don't feel like you'll get around to reading a book about the subject matter. The story, as it stands, is an interesting one, but don't expect this movie to give you anything further to chew on when you're done.