Roadrunner: A Film About Anthony Bourdain
Directed by Morgan Neville
Featuring Anthony Bourdain, David Chang, Ėric Ripert, David Choe, Morgan Fallon, Alison Mosshart, Tom Vitale, Ottavia Bourdain, Josh Homme, Lydia Tenaglia
I was on the road when I heard that Anthony Bourdain had taken his own life on June 8, 2018.
And yet, despite seeing adverts for his ‘Parts Unknown’ television show, I didn’t know Anthony Bourdain. I had seen him judge cooking shows in recent years, though it took Morgan Neville’s (“Won’t You Be My Neighbor”) “Roadrunner: A Film About Anthony Bourdain” to recognize his deeper soul.
An apt title to be sure, Neville doesn’t focus on answering the tragic mystery behind his suicide; instead, it has a reflective feel about the people who were lucky to get to know him and enjoy his effervescence, his snarky personality.
Even more than that, the lives that he touched, the romanticism he had with food, love, and ultimately life. You might question the last part of that sentence, but in reality, after seeing the documentary, Bourdain was destined to end life on his own terms.
Neville allows the people in Bourdain’s life, from his three marriages, his friends in the industry, and his colleagues who helped him produce a very popular, televised travelogue, the room to breathe, to talk. “Roadrunner” becomes a cathartic experience.
Yes, there are inner wounds that participants won’t divulge on camera, some like David Choe, even go as far as to damn Bourdain for leaving too early, but they are so touched and moved by how Bourdain touched their lives that they find the way forward. There is no solace, only comfort in the shared memories.
Bourdain, a troubled and angry adolescent, took to drugs as a teenager. He found himself able to wean himself off, but the documentary portends that Bourdain shifted his vice and passion into the kitchens of New York City. His snarky sensibilities eventually led him to write a book, “Kitchen Confidential,” an expose on kitchens and popular dishes. Bourdain might not have been searching for popularity, but his book landed on the New York Times bestseller list, gaining fame overnight.
Bourdain was shocked by his increasing popularity, a romantic and soulful individual, causing him to withdraw internally. Neville paints him as someone who constantly did a lot of soul searching, finding his own way. The various participants shared this same sentiment.
Within the cathartic bubble that is “Roadrunner: A Film About Anthony Bourdain,” Neville culled 16 minutes worth of audio recordings and added Bourdain’s voice to his own epitaph. For someone whose voice came through loudly and clearly, I am not objected to Neville’s inclusion of his subject’s voice, if nothing else, because of the enormous amount of voice-over work that Bourdain did for his television shows.
If anything, “Roadrunner: A Film About Anthony Bourdain” doesn’t seek to answer the why’s or how’s surrounding his death; instead, it lulls you into his chaotic life. I was surprised to learn what an adept study of film he was. Neville intersperses reminiscences with film clips that inspired Bourdain, including a passion for “Apocalypse Now.”
That’s an excellent way to describe how I felt when I came out of “Roadrunner”: Inspired; inspired, and challenged to find new paths, new ways of doing things.
The Highly Recommended “Roadrunner: A Film About Anthony Bourdain” is now in theaters, and while you’re checking it out, I’m going to be visiting “Kitchen Confidential,” aiming to learn even more about this soul who wouldn’t settle for mediocre.
R, 118 minutes, Focus Features/CNN Films/Max Originals/Tremolo Productions