Founder and the Figures
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Directed and co-written by Theodore Melfi (St. Vincent), Hidden Figures tells the true story of Katherine G. Johnson, Mary Jackson, and Dorothy Vaughn; three African-American women who played a pivotal role in NASA’s space race during the 1960’s.
Think of it as a behind-the-scenes telling of Phillip Kaufman’s The Right Stuff (1983); where that film focused on the men who would make the trip into space, Hidden Figures is about the math and science that went in to make it possible. The performances are excellent from Octavia Spencer (Academy Award winner for The Help) as the stern but caring Dorothy Vaughn, Janelle Monáe (Moonlight) provided the laughs as Mary Jackson, and the wonderful Taraji P. Henson (TV’s Empire) shines as Katherine G. Johnson, who took part in the space flight of John Glenn, the first man to orbit the moon. The supporting cast is also excellent with Mahershala Ali(Moonlight) as Katherine’s future husband Colonel Jim Johnson, along with Kevin Costner (Academy Award winner for Dances With Wolves), and Kirsten Dunst(Spiderman Trilogy) as NASA officials. Even Jim Parson (The Big Bang Theory) delivers a good performance as a NASA engineer that is reminiscent of his television counterpart.
The movie is surprisingly clean and for the most part, family friendly. While it’s nice to see a story like this accessible for younger audiences I can’t help but wonder if it was filmed for the sole intention of getting an approval to be shown in an Elementary and Junior high schools. I’m not saying that it’s a bad thing or for it to have a PG-13 or R rating but in an effort to be appropriate many scenes felt oversimplified and less engaging. It may not be in the same league as say The Help or Selma but nevertheless it’s an inspirational story that I’m glad is being told and deserving for all the praise it’s receiving.
From breaking barriers to the burger business The Founder tells the tale of how the biggest fast food juggernaut came to be. Set in 1954, Ray Croc (1989’s Batman Michael Keaton) is a salesman selling milkshake makers who isn’t impressed with his job or the fast food service he gets during his routes. All of that changes when he stumbles across a small restaurant in San Bernardino, California called McDonalds run by the McDonalds brothers themselves Richard James “Dick” (Parks and Recreation Nick Offerman) and Maurice James “Mac” (American Horror Story John Lynch Carol). From the speedy service, low prices, limited menu, disposable items, and eating the meal anytime and anywhere, Croc sees the possibly of turning McDonalds into a franchise, a deal that the brothers are hesitant but reluctantly agree.
I was surprised how factual the film remained and director John Lee Hancock (The Blind Side and Saving Mr. Banks) isn’t afraid to show the good and the bad on McDonald’s not-so-humble origins. It doesn’t hold back on how crooked Croc became with his newfound success from neglecting his own wife, seeing another woman, claiming the burger idea as his own, breaking several deals with the McDonald’s brothers and finding a way of getting them out of his franchise business. Hancock serves an intriguing story on a well-known subject that isn’t known to many; while success was achieved it gives voice to those who weren’t pleased with the outcome. In Saving Mr. Banks it was with Mary Poppins author P.L. Travers, in The Founder it’s the McDonalds brothers. I asked many McDonald’s employees if any of them knew about The Founder to which the majority responded no. You would think a movie about McDonalds would attract a crowd as big as the ones who eat at its burger locale.