Alex Casey is a staff writer for New Zealand pop culture-obsessed website The Spinoff and columnist for the NZ Herald.

Movie review: The Founder

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I'll admit that The Founder, the story of the birth of McDonald's, is a little harder to swallow than a cheeseburger and fries. The experience is a bit more like stomaching a Filet O'Fish after you've read a clickbait article that claims they keep them in the warmers for eight hours, drop them in the toilet and then serve them to you in an old boot. And rightly so, because this particular origin story ain't no picnic.

It should come as no surprise to anyone that the world famous golden arches were built atop layers of greed and corruption, all in the name of the same American Dream they would come to symbolise today. Directed by John Lee Hancock (the man behind the cushiony soft The Blind Side and Saving Mr Banks), The Founder is a surprisingly biting biopic that charts from the beginning of McDonald's in the early 1950s to its explosive growth in the following decade.

In a way, it's the perfect plastic toy to arrive alongside Trump's not-so-happy meal. McDonald's has long been an emblem of America's great entrepreneurship and innovation, spare the environment and mind the obesity levels.

Michael Keaton (Birdman, Beetlejuice) plays lacquered snake charmer Ray Kroc, a middling salesman in middle America who, like all white men with little talent and big egos, wants to be anything but. When he stumbles upon a humble burger joint using cutting edge technology in San Bernardino, he realises he's stumbled upon the Big Mac of ideas.

That is to say, he's stolen the Big Mac of ideas. The great irony of The Founder is that the salt-of-the-earth brother duo Mac and Dick McDonald, played respectively by John Carol Lynch (Fargo, Zodiac) and Nick Offerman (Parks and Recreation), are the original founders that history forgot. Swept up in the fast-paced, suit-wearing energy of Hurricane Kroc, they partner up with him to franchise the McDonald's brand. It was a decision that hurt them - and the waistlines of the Western world - forever.

What makes The Founder more than just your average Jobs-style mogul biopic is how it places Michael Keaton's Ray Kroc at the centre of the film, inviting him to be both the hero and the villain. The film begins an underdog tale of a salesman with big dreams. As that dream begins to realise itself through any means necessary, we see what suffers in its pursuit. A particularly heartbreaking scene involving some limp boiled carrots and his wife Ethel (Laura Dern) is a reminder that behind every "great" man in history was often an endlessly supportive and incredibly sad woman.

Keaton skilfully plays Kroc as both pitiful and all-powerful, his clown-like grin reminiscent of a kid who has found a way to nick lollies without getting caught. Where he can recite business self-help mantras and remain steely in front of clients, his home life is a painfully slow car wreck. Nick Offerman, embodying a character that could easily be the grizzled father of Ron Swanson, represents the proud, values-driven small towns into which McDonald's will eventually swoop.

The Founder is by no means a piece of sunny and clown-filled McDonald's propaganda.

It's subtle in its wider cultural commentary, from people rejoicing at the paper packaging and then littering in droves, to the loaded disapproval of "undesirable" customers (what in the 1950s would have surely translated as "people of colour").

Ultimately, it's a portrait of one narcissistic man whose corrupt dealings changed food, business and popular culture forever. They say that everyone eats McDonald's but nobody really wants to find out how it was made.

Thanks to The Founder, that's now as true for the burgers as it is the business.

Rated M
Screening now

- Spy.co.nz

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