Essays · Movies

Are ‘The Founder’ and ‘Gold’ the Same Movie?

By  · Published on February 9th, 2017

$15 Million lawsuit alleges that “both appeal to the same audience.” We report, we decide!

Oh, what is in a concept, I think the Bard said at some point while marketing, uh, Hamlet or whatever. Such is the issue that will face a New York Supreme Court judge, as The Weinstein Company finds itself on the end of a $15 million lawsuit from Speedee Distribution, a McDonald’s-themed subsidiary of FilmNation Entertainment, a company that had its hands on promoting everything from bad Woody Allen movies (Magic in the Moonlight) to bad Terrence Malick movies (Knight of Cups) to every variety of bad movie in between (Chernobyl Diaries).

Their claim? That Stephen Gaghan’s Gold, the bad Matthew McConaughey movie that Weinstein happens to be pushing – a rare find in the age of the McConaissance – will steal prospective customers away from their mediocre Michael Keaton movie, John Lee Hancock’s The Founder, because Gold’s wide release date was scheduled one week after The Founder hit theaters, violating some sort of deal the company had with Weinstein regarding releasing any of their movies within a week of The Founder. Gosh, that’s an annoying title. And confusing stuff, too, since both films were, of course, officially released at different ends of last month because both companies imagined the Oscars were hungry for some version of a McConaughey/Keaton sandwich. (No luck, boys.)

But what of this lame old man version of the Kanye/Fiddy rivalry? Are The Founder and Gold indeed two versions of the same tale of blundering businessmen traversing through post-war capitalism without a single Frank Capra movie to guide them? Both present a number of interesting superficial similarities. Both are period pieces and, in turn, feature some variety of thankless wife or girlfriend: Laua Dern in The Founder and Bryce Dallas Howard in Gold. For trivia fans out there, Howard also starred as main adventure movie female in a little reboot called Jurassic World, a role that Dern helmed in the original. Fun! On that note, both movies are also fronted by an aged star in the midst of some kind of career-issance, though nobody enjoys saying the word Keatonissance.

Both movies are also similarly uncritical of the massive wealth its heroes put in a pile and gather. In The Founder, Keaton’s Ray Croc spends most of the movie marching, Sherman-like, through a Midwestern America suffering a drought of convenient fast food, cheered at each locale by pasty people enthralled to be liberated from silverware. At one point, I thought the camera would linger on an overflowing garbage can at least, but nah. The only crit Hancock (and screenwriter Robert Siegel who also penned The Wrestler) can come up with is the way Keaton’s Croc untidily disposes of Richard and Maurice McDonald, the company’s founders and namesakes who are played by Nick Offerman and John Carroll Lynch. The only thing keeping little Keaton action figures away from your Happy Meals, I assume, is this kind of Social Network-esque meanness, though 90% of Fincher’s critique of Mark Zuckerberg was simply in casting Jesse Eisenberg to play him. But who wouldn’t want to be the Batman of burgers? Anthony Lane, for this reason, perhaps, called The Founder the first Trumpist film of the new era.

Gold (2016)

Will Leitch, over at the New Republic, called Gold “a cautionary tale about making sure nobody stands in the way of your quest for excessive wealth.” Which I believe was the main moral behind the rich allegorical tales contained in Art of the Deal?

Regardless, the only thing I knew about Gold before popping a seat at the local cinema was that it featured McConaughey and, thanks to The Ringer, he was meant to be very ugly, boasting a set of some “rocky, uneven, yellowed teeth.” But anyone picking on ugly McConaughey was treated to the, uh, ugly surprise that, midway through Gaghan’s two hours, he’s rich! He’s (allegedly) struck gold! People like him now! Gaghan’s camera purports to take us around the globe and up and down the staircase of wealth a number of times, which would probably boggle my mind before the popularity of air travel.

More so than The Founder, Gold is indebted to the super popularity of Scorsese’s The Wolf of Wall Street, as unlike most movies about striking gold, there is an emphasis on the men in suits behind the glitter, the way the market will cling to anything, and those ringing bell sounds you might remember from news segments about how the markets are doing. But unlike Leonardo DiCaprio’s Jordan Belfort, Gaghan’s hero merely seems to stumble into the ceaseless champagne flutes: scissoring out Scorsese’s controversial moral tale, the villains of Gold are simply those standing in the way of the massive wealth that McConaughey’s Kenny Wells is entitled to by virtue of being a sad schlub in the movie’s first half.

What really connects Gold to The Founder, and what irks Speedee Distribution so much, in my opinion, is that both movies sell themselves by being true-story motion pictures, movies whose primary sell is a fantasy that appears grounded in the reality of a newspaper scandal. If an unattractive oaf like Wells, a not-so-distant cousin to Jonah Hill’s Donnie, can suddenly become the toast of the town, then so – the logic goes – can you. Ditto The Founder, a movie that seems to presuppose the only thing that separated Croc from everyone else who tried to franchise McDonald’s (Croc’s McDonald’s was the ninth to try to make the brand stick) was sheer gumption and a willingness to hang up the phone and ignore the wife when things didn’t go his way. You know, being an asshole.

The choice is yours!

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