Posts tagged ‘McDonalds’

February 3, 2017

#124) Movie review: “The Founder”

founder1It’s almost too easy, right? A ruthless tycoon screws two honest, hard-working brothers out of their idea and makes billions selling food that causes obesity and other health problems. I mean, come on, this guy makes Vader look like an Eagle Scout. The script practically writes itself!

Not so fast.  “The Founder”, directed by John Lee Hancock, written by Robert Siegel and starring Michael Keaton as McDonald’s CEO Ray Kroc, isn’t a character assassination. Nor does it present its subject as a charismatic anti-hero a la “The Social Network.” The film’s restraint – criticized by some as “wishy-washy” and “as bland as the burgers the businessman hawked” – is in fact its strength.

We already know what happens and there are few surprises en route. The trusting, values-driven McDonald brothers (John Carroll Lynch as Mac and Nick Offerman as Dick) don’t have any more of chance against Kroc than Kroc’s loyal but sullen wife Ethel (Laura Dern) has against Joan (Linda Cardellini), the young, forward-thinking blonde whom he meets on a business trip. The film’s ending seems abrupt but it’s only because ultimately there’s not much to add: Kroc died uneventfully in 1984, never having experienced consequences for his business tactics.

“The Founder” works by staying out of the audience’s way, resisting the urge to score obvious points. There is no blistering indictment of Kroc’s actions, the unhealthy product he sold or employee wages. The period details are accurate without calling attention to themselves. The recognizable but not ubiquitous cast don’t treat their roles as platforms to make statements. The script is not too witty for the subject matter (sorry, Aaron Sorkin) and the dialogue is realistic. There is one clever exchange between the brothers but it’s subtle enough that most viewers will miss it and those who catch it will smile knowingly and appreciate that this touch of symbolism remains just that: a touch.

What it adds up to is that the viewers are given a clean slate on which to draw their own conclusions. Was Kroc an opportunist who wasn’t able to contain his excitement when he saw a chance to escape years of mediocrity or was he a true villain? Did Kroc actually want to give the McDonald Brothers a fair shake in the beginning but acted selfishly and impulsively when his vision outgrew theirs, or was he out to swindle them all along? Was he a genius or simply in the right place at the right time? Some film goers won’t want to give Kroc the benefit of the doubt, but Hancock and Keaton make sure he receives a fair trial. We see Kroc drinking regularly but not excessively. His late night talks with Joan appear illicit at first but are strictly corporate. He hides his financial difficulties from Ethel, but the film knows better than to expect pearl clutching: no, not everyone is 100% transparent about money with their spouse.

Some may see the movie’s lack of an obvious moral stance as an attempt to pander both to Middle America and the coasts; others may be disappointed that more heads don’t roll. On the other hand, among blockbusters and issue-oriented pictures, a no-frills $7 million film that allows the audience to ask and answer their own questions also just might have a place.



December 2, 2013

#62) Testing the Test of Time: The Survival Instinct

Time is one of the hardest–and most widely respected–tests of the quality and validity of all things.  At some point, we’ve all said or heard someone say, “____ (did/didn’t) stand the test of time.”  Lately, however, I’ve been considering a puzzle: there are certain things that have survived time, yet are generally not considered to be of high quality.  High quality is a matter of opinion, of course, but for the sake of argument, let’s assume that most people don’t consider McDonald’s, Jerry Springer and Britney Spears to represent respectively the pinnacles of excellence in cuisine, television and music.  Yet all of the above have been household names for quite some time: more than half a century (McDonald’s) a near quarter century (Springer) and a solid decade and a half (Spears).  If these are not quality products, how have they been able to stand the test of time?  Two words: survival instinct.

Let’s start with Mickey Dee’s.  The Golden Arches appeal to our survival instinct on multiple levels.  First of all, as human beings, we are wired to crave high calorie foods: it goes back to our cave man ancestors, who didn’t know where or when they would find their next meal, so stocking up on calories was a matter of survival.  Being able to get food quickly is also important to the survival instinct, as does being able to stretch one’s dollar farther.

What of the masses that chant “Je-REE!  Je-REE!”?  More than one pundit has opined that reality TV’s appeal lies in its ability to let the viewer feel superior to the characters.  Nowhere is this more clear than in the Jerry Springer show.  One could make the leap that the need for humans to feel superior is an extension of the behavior of animals–rams, gorillas, roosters–whose survival and social standing depends on their ability to dominate.

One could argue that as of this writing, the appeal of Britney Spears is more than just that of a human trainwreck; that’s Miley Cyrus’s job.  Sure, she had her embarrassing tabloid moments, but unlike, say, Paris Hilton or Lindsay Lohan, Spears has proven that she doesn’t have to disappear to avoid disaster.  Thus she appeals to another facet of the human survival instinct: the identification with the underdog.  We still love Britney not because she entertains us with her drama, but because she’s survived it.  We all want to know that making mistakes is OK; that if we get back in the ring for another round, things will work out no matter how long the odds may seem.

So what do we do with all this?  How does any of this effect the life of you, the reader?  It probably doesn’t, in all fairness; it’s just interesting to consider that things that seem unappealing on the surface may have more of an impact on us than we realize.  I’m not saying that you need to watch Season 6 of “Springer” on Netflix, purchase front-row tickets to Britney Spears’ new show in Vegas or retrace Morgan “Super Size Me” Spurlock’s ill-fated McDonalds voyage.  Perhaps there are other ways to respond to our survival instinct.   But be that as it may, McDonald’s, Jerry Springer and Britney Spears have managed to become part of our culture, for better or worse.  Form follows function and while appealing to base instincts might not be the most elegant way to pass the test of time, it just might be the most reliable.