First Hit: Michael Keaton makes a very interesting story fantastic.
The Founder is about Ray Kroc (Michael Keaton) and how he built the fast-food empire McDonalds.
There are numerous reasons for me to be engaged with this film. One of them being my own franchising experience. In the mid-late 1970’s I worked for Century 21 International Inc. which was then in its franchising heyday. At that time they also became a public company. More recently I was Chief Operations Officer for Bar Method International, Inc. which among its businesses franchised Bar Method exercise studios throughout the United States and Canada.
With this background, it is safe to say I know something about the trials and tribulations of franchising. This film is amazing at highlighting many of the difficulties of franchising and how quality control of the product is key. One of the questions this film points out is: Do "investor owned" franchises work? This film tells that story and more.
The film begins with Kroc out on the road trying to sell mixers. We learn during the film, he has a history of trying to sell all sorts of products and ideas. He's a somewhat haunted man chasing success. To help him, he listens to records on persistence and positive thinking while on the road selling these state of the art five spindle milk shake mixers. He drives from carhop restaurant to carhop restaurant hoping to make a sale. His wife Ethel (Laura Dern) appears to be quasi-supportive and would like a more stable life, be seen as higher up in their social standing, and go to the country club for dinner more often. She appears lonely and does her best to keep their household together.
One day a he calls his office and learns that some hamburger stand in California bought five of his mixers. He’s astounded and doesn’t believe it. He calls and gets Dick McDonald (Nick Offerman) on the phone who says, “yes”, the order is incorrect, he didn’t order enough, he’ll take eight mixers. So instead of going home he drives from Illinois to California to meet the guy who wants eight of his mixers.
Upon arriving he’s shocked to find long lines in front of the order window, thinking it will take forever to get his food, he finds out that the line goes fast, he orders and gets his food within 30 seconds. Sitting down on a bench, he takes a bite, loves what he tastes and notices that everyone is loving the burger, fries and soft drink they bought.
After Dick and Mac (John Carroll Lynch) McDonald give him a tour of their restaurant operation, he is struck by lightning. He wants in. He wants to be a part of this amazing food delivery service. Serving a limited controlled menu that is prepared the same way every time served within 30 seconds from when the customer orders and pays.
He works out a deal to open franchises under very strict guidelines as indicated in the contract they all sign. Trying to open McDonalds franchises proves to be a test in courage to make sure they meet the strict guidelines. It is through this process that he discovers the right type of person needed to be a successful franchisee, meets his future wife Joan (Linda Cardellini), and what it takes to make money in the franchising business. The rest of the film is about how this journey begins and how he, Ray Kroc, becomes “The Founder” of McDonalds.
Keaton is absolutely amazing as Ray Kroc. He’s wired, fired and inspired. Above all he's persistent in his actions which leads to his achieving his wants and dreams. Offerman is sublime as Dick McDonald. His intellect, ability to create processes that work, and stubbornness are perfect for someone who wanted to protect and perfect his creation. Lynch is very good as the more emotional and feeling based brother. He’s there to support his brothers ideas. Dern has a minimal role which has little range and is very subdued. Cardellini is wonderful as Kroc’s second wife Joan and her character is a perfect match for Ray. Robert D. Siegel wrote an amazing script that did enough research to know what it takes to create products and processes capable of being franchised. John Lee Handcock did an outstanding job of taking the story and letting Keaton act out the story.
Overall: This was great acting in a wonderful script about something most everyone in the world has experienced, McDonalds restaurant.