From P.J. O’Rourke‘s “How to Drive Fast on Drugs While Getting Your Wing-Wang Squeezed and Not Spill Your Drink“, written in the mid ’80s:
“When it comes to taking chances, some people like to play poker or shoot dice; other people prefer to parachute-jump, go rhino hunting, or climb ice floes, while still others engage in crime or marriage. But I like to get drunk and drive like a fool.
“Name me, if you can, a better feeling than the one you get when you’re half a bottle of Chivas in the bag with a gram of coke up your nose and a teenage lovely pulling off her tube top in the next seat over while you’re going a hundred miles an hour down a suburban side street. You’d have to watch the entire Mexican air force crash-land in a liquid petroleum gas storage facility to match this kind of thrill.
“If you ever have much more fun than that, you’ll die of pure sensory overload, I’m here to tell you.
“Is that any way to have fun? How would your mother feel if she knew you were doing this? She’d cry. She really would. And that’s how you know it’s fun. Anything that makes your mother cry is fun. Sigmund Freud wrote all about this. It’s a well-known fact.
“Of course, it’s a shame to waste young lives behaving this way – speeding around all tanked up with your feet hooked in the steering wheel while your date crawls around on the floor mats opening zippers with her teeth and pounding on the accelerator with an empty liquor bottle. But it wouldn’t be taking a chance if you weren’t risking something. And even if it is a shame to waste young lives behaving this way, it is definitely cooler than risking old lives behaving this way.
“I mean, so what if some fifty-eight-year-old butt-head gets a load on and starts playing Death Race 2000 in the rush-hour traffic jam? What kind of chance is he taking? He’s just waiting around to see what kind of cancer he gets anyway. But if young, talented you, with all of life’s possibilities at your fingertips, you and the future Cheryl Tiegs there, so fresh, so beautiful — if the two of you stake your handsome heads on a single roll of the dice in life’s game of stop-the-semi — now that’s taking chances! Which is why old people rarely risk their lives. It’s not because they’re chicken — they just have too much dignity to play for small stakes.
“It’s important to be drunk because being drunk keeps your body all loose, and that way, if you have an accident or anything, you’ll sort of roll with the punches and not get banged up so bad. For example, there was this guy I heard about who was really drunk and was driving through the Adirondacks. He got sideswiped by a bus and went head-on into another car, which knocked him off a bridge, and he plummeted 150 feet into a ravine. I mean, it killed him and everything, but if he hadn’t been so drunk and loose, his body probably would have been banged up a lot worse — and you can imagine how much more upset his wife would have been when she went down to the morgue to identify him.”
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It didn’t get the love it deserved, but John Lee Hancock‘s The Founder, which opened a little more than five years ago, is easily one of the most fascinating and easily re-watchable dramas of the 20teens — half character study and half hard-scrabble success story, and a film about a highly unusual protagonist — Michael Keaton‘s Ray Kroc — who straddles the line between admirable and not-so-admirable.
Most people don’t know what to do with a character like Kroc. Half-good and half-shifty characters are hard to relax with. It’s okay if a lead character is a bit of an ethical muddle, but audiences generally like their main protagonists to be more sympathetic than not.
Kroc and Scarlett O’Hara aside, what movie characters are the most memorable half-and-halfers? And don’t tell me that Charles Foster Kane belongs in this fraternity. Because he doesn’t.
The Founder is basically the story of how Kroc persuaded the earnest, slightly doltish, small-time-thinking McDonald brothers (Dick and Mick, respectively played by Nick Offerman and John Carroll Lynch) to let him franchise their small fast-food business and turn it into a super-sized empire.
But more generally The Founder is a nuts-and-bolts story about what a scramble it is to grow a business and then stay afloat with all the serpents snapping at your heels.
Robert Siegel‘s script is a portrait of dog-eat-dog entrepenurial capitalism — a movie that basically says “sometimes it takes a pushy, manipulative shithead to orchestrate a big success.”
Except Keaton’s Kroc is not really a shithead. He’s just a hungry, wily go-getter who believes in the organizational basics that made McDonald’s a hit during its early California years (1948 to ’54) and who has the drive and the smarts to build it into a major money-maker. Your heart is basically with the guy, and I was surprised to feel this way after having nursed vaguely unpleasant thoughts about Kroc (scrappy Republican, Nixon and Reagan supporter) my entire life.
You know who is unlikable? Offerman’s Dick McDonald — a guy who’s always complaining, always frowning or bitching about something, always a stopper. The bottom line is that Dick doesn’t get it and neither does Mac, but Ray does. And to my great surprise I found myself taking Ray’s side and even chucking when he tells Dick to go fuck himself in Act Three. Ray is a bit of a prick but not a monster. And I understood where he was coming from. He’s a little shifty here and there, but I couldn’t condemn him all that strongly.
Keaton turns the key in just the right way. He doesn’t try to win you over but he doesn’t play Ray as a bad guy either — he plays it somewhere in between, and it’s that “in between” that makes The Founder feel quietly fascinating. It allows you to root for a not-so-nice-but-at-the-same-time-not-so-bad guy without feeling too conflicted.
And yet The Founder didn’t exactly burn up the box-office. It wound up grossing $12.8 million domestic and $24.1 million worldwide.