One phrase was used frequently when I worked at McDonald’s during high school: “If you got time to lean, you got time to clean.”
I heard that saying in my teenage dreams.
Watching “The Founder” and hearing Ray Kroc (Michael Keaton) say it brought me flashbacks.
The film shares the story of how Kroc came to be the head of the huge success that is McDonald’s.
It begins with Kroc on the road as a salesman of a milkshake machine. He is having a hard time selling the product when a call back to his office gives him hope.
A restaurant in San Bernardino, California, wants six of his machines. Kroc believes that the person placing the order made a mistake. There was no way someone would need six of the machines.
He calls the restaurant and talks to one of the two brothers that own it. There was a mistake: The order was not for six, but eight.
Kroc is in St. Louis at the time, but decides he has to go see this place. He drives across the country and arrives to find a hamburger place with a line out to the street.
Getting in the line, he is told by a woman in front that it will not be long. Approaching the window, he orders a hamburger, fries and a Coke. Within seconds, a bag and a cup appear.
He asks, “Where is the plate?” Back in the ’50s, drive-ins served food on plates.
“There is no plate. You eat out of the bag,” he is told.
“Where do you eat?” he asks.
“In your car” is the reply.
Sitting down on a bench outside, Kroc looks at the people and sees that they seemingly love what they are eating. So, he pulls out his burger and takes a bite.
Mac McDonald (John Carroll Lynch) is sweeping up, and Kroc tells him this is the best hamburger he’s ever eaten. Mac says thanks and finds out Kroc is the salesman for the shake machines.
Taking him on a tour of the restaurant, Kroc sees the brothers’ operation. They serve only burgers, fries, Coke and shakes, with the goal of serving each order to the customer within 30 seconds.
Kroc is struck by this and pitches the idea that this needs to be franchised. He tells the brothers that McDonald’s needs to become the new American church.
Dick McDonald (Nick Offerman) does not want to do this. The concept was his idea, and he does not want to lose control over it.
Mac persuades him by saying that they can draw up a contract that gives the brothers control and right of refusal of anything they do not like. Kroc signs the agreement with the brothers and goes off to build his first McDonald’s.
As the story unwinds, we see something very clear about Kroc: He does not like to be told, “No.” He also does not quit because he is never satisfied.
Having worked for a McDonald’s franchisee, I knew some of this story. But I did not know one thing that the movie makes clear: If you had an idea that Kroc liked, he would find a way to get it for himself.
What makes the movie palatable to see is Michael Keaton. He takes a ruthless, ambitious person who has few morals and makes him almost likeable.
Part of how that works is the way the movie is shot. John Lee Hancock, the director, uses close-ups with Keaton talking to the camera. Keaton uses this to get the audience to see that Kroc is an American success story, even if he swindles his way to it.
Kroc was a person who never had enough. He was always doggedly determined to get what he wanted.
What this movie does is pull back the curtain on the myth of the American success story.
We see those that make huge amounts of money in business and we idolize them. But we never ask the hard question of how they made their money.
“The Founder” shows us an unflattering picture of the American success story.
The church becomes guilty of this. When a person of significant financial means joins the church, the push is to put that person on the board and get him or her in leadership positions.
The belief is that God must be in that person’s life or otherwise how did he or she get all that money?
“The Founder” points out that many may have made their riches at the expense of others.
Michael Parnell is pastor of Temple Baptist Church in Raleigh, North Carolina. He is married and has two boys. His love is for movies, and he can be found in a theater most Fridays.
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for brief strong language.
Director: John Lee Hancock
Writer: Robert Siegel
Cast: Michael Keaton (Ray Kroc), Nick Offerman (Dick McDonald), John Carroll Lynch (Mac McDonald), B.J. Novak (Harry Sonneborn), Laura Dern (Ethel Kroc), Kate Kneeland (June Martino).
The movie’s website is here.