Five Ways McDonald’s Predicted the Donald
I doubt it’s a coincidence that the Weinstein Co. — savvy marketers that they are — delayed the release date of The Founder from last August until Inauguration Day. The biopic of McDonald’s mastermind Ray Kroc seems like the perfect film for the Trump Era. That’s not a qualitative judgment: The movie itself, although strangely slow for a story about fast food, ultimately gains momentum after it initially founders, and it features a career-best performance from Michael Keaton (and that’s really saying something) as Kroc and a tasty supporting cast including Nick Offerman and John Carroll Lynch as the McDonald’s brothers, owners of the original restaurant that Kroc turned into a worldwide franchise.
What’s most striking about The Founder (and its sharp script by The Wrestler‘s Robert Siegel) is how many ways Kroc’s rise to wealth and power parallels our new President’s. Let me count them.
- The Founder is the story of a ruthless businessman who becomes a billionaire by being a bully and gobbling up real estate. Once Kroc, a struggling milkshake-machine salesman who’s gone bust with a number of get-rich-quick schemes, infiltrates the McDonalds’ business, he proceeds to intimidate them into getting his way, even though he has a contract giving them approval over any changes to the company. Once he’s rich and powerful enough, he threatens the small-time San Bernadino, Calif. restaurateurs to sue him for breaking their contract, promising to bury them in legal fees they can’t afford. And after they eventually capitulate and sell him the business, he promises them (on a handshake!) to give them 1 percent of the profits in perpetuity but never delivers. A tycoon who stiffs the little guys? McDonald’s dictator sounds a lot like the Donald.
- Kroc wraps himself in the American flag just as tightly as McDonald’s employees wrap their burgers in disposable paper. When he’s trying to convince the McDonalds to give him his way, he tells them to “Do it for America. Do it for your country.” Later he delivers a monologue about how much he loves the name McDonald’s because he knows it would sell more burgers than a place named Kroc’s (although that might sell a lot of shoes): “It sounds like… America.” It also sounds like, “Make America Great Again.”
- He makes sweeping promises, then delivers an inferior product that’s not good for you. Although Kroc sets out to serve healthy food at a fair price, once he realizes how little profit he’s making, he cuts corners by cutting the milk out of McDonald’s milkshakes. By using powdered water and no actual milk, he can make a killing. A milkshake with no milk = Obamacare with no care? And they both could kill you.
- He trades “up” for a younger, hotter wife. Kroc’s long-suffering yet supportive spouse (a thankless role well-played by Laura Dern) gets cast aside for a hot blonde, Joan (Linda Cardellini), the wife of one of his franchisees (Patrick Wilson). She seduces him with the fake-milkshake idea, and director John Lee Hancock misses a golden opportunity to set the scene to the tune of “My Milkshake Brings All the Boys to the Yard,” as anachronistic as that may be. Do I even need to draw the parallels to Marla Maples and Melania? One can only hope that Melania in the not-too-distant future takes a cue from Joan and donates a huge portion of her late husband’s fortune to charity—and millions to NPR.
- Kroc personifies fast food. He eventually dubs himself the company’s “founder,” even though he essentially stole it from the titular brothers. and he ultimately builds an empire that feeds 1% of the world’s population daily. That includes Trump, who has admitted to a love of fast food (hence his less-than-svelte figure). Finally, is it a coincidence Ronald McDonald is the company’s mascot and Trump is a clown? I think not. So if you’re fed up with the guy who keeps trying to force-feed us Whoppers—sorry, wrong fast-food joint!—you deserve a break from the news today, so get up and get away to The Founder.