Michael Keaton is the Mark Zuckerberg of McDonald’s in The Founder Trailer

Should we just start calling this “The Burger Network”?
By  · Published on April 21st, 2016

If The Social Network is the filet mignon of corporate icon biopics, then The Founder might appropriately be the fast food hamburger patty. And that’s not a knock at the latter, which looks plenty satisfying. There’s just a big difference between something directed by David Fincher and something directed by John Lee Hancock. Based on the first trailer (seen up above), The Founder appears to be a brighter, lighter, more cartoonish movie about a guy who, retroactively, comes off as the Mark Zuckerberg of McDonald’s.

Michael Keaton is playing the guy, Ray Kroc, who didn’t actually found the burger restaurant but did turn it into the enormous chain it is today. There was enough conflict over the business, which was started by Dick and Mac McDonald (Nick Offerman and John Carroll Lynch), and that’s evident in the footage we can see so far, that it has a very Social Network feel, at least story-wise. There’s a bit in the trailer that’s almost like Keaton-as-Kroc’s version of the line “If you guys were the inventors of Facebook, you’d have invented Facebook.”

What I find particularly appealing about The Founder beyond its comparisons to Fincher’s movie is how it’s a movie about a man that has had a huge effect on all our lives, regardless of whether or not we eat McDonald’s, and really changed the world, yet few of us know much about him. Maybe we’ve seen the mounted plaque with his sculpted face in our local franchise. But even if you’ve read the book or seen a documentary on Kroc, you don’t have a media reference you’ll be expecting to see remade on the screen.

Well, there is a shot in the trailer of Keaton in front of one of the original McDonald’s restaurants, the iconic first “Golden Arches” location in Downey, California. But it’s not the same as all the movies being made now that seem just excuses to make actors look like someone familiar and recreate familiar photographs, film scenes, performances, songs, news clips, and footage we’ve seen from trials and hearings. Keaton is trying to mimic Kroc’s voice, just barely successfully, but not enough of the audience will know any better.

So we can focus on the storytelling and the acting, particularly that of Keaton, who probably won’t be earning another Oscar nomination but will entertain as a showman salesman businessman guy who goes from hawking milkshake machines to hijacking a family enterprise. I say probably, but while Hancock couldn’t direct Tom Hanks to another nod for the Walt Disney biopic(ish) film Saving Mr. Banks, he did direct Sandra Bullock in her Oscar-winning role in the also fairly light biopic(ish) film The Blind Side.

The Founder features more great actors, including Offerman, Lynch, and Laura Dern, whom we see in the trailer as Kroc’s wife, Ethel. There’s also Patrick Wilson and Linda Cardellini, according to IMDb. And it’s scripted by former Onion editor-in-chief turned screenwriter Robert D. Siegel (The Wrestler), who is no Aaron Sorkin but sure seems to be trying for some catchy lines here, some of which come off rather corny. “Contracts are like hearts. They’re made to be broken.” Hmm, I guess that’s a hint of a spoiler that Kroc and Ethel get divorced.

The Founder arrives in theaters on August 5th. Hopefully movie theaters will let us all take in outside food just the once in order to enjoy a Big Mac during the show.

Christopher Campbell began writing film criticism and covering film festivals for a zine called Read, back when a zine could actually get you Sundance press credentials. He's now a Senior Editor at FSR and the founding editor of our sister site Nonfics. He also regularly contributes to Fandango and Rotten Tomatoes and is the President of the Critics Choice Association's Documentary Branch.