Evaluation: ‘Roadrunner’ is a powerful homage to Anthony Bourdain — with one serious misstep


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“Here’s just a little preemptive truth telling: There is no happy ending. ” That’s Anthony Bourdain, appearing cheerful, unmistakable and strangely prophetic. Lifted from a cornucopia of footage, his tone of voice welcomes us into the starting scenes of “Roadrunner, ” a restless and cut new documentary that proves to be as much about his death as it is about their life.

You can understand why. Arriving three years after Bourdain, the celebrated cocinero, writer and world traveler, died by suicide at the age of 61, the movie doesn’t just politely explore or recount or even eulogize. As focused by Morgan Neville (“20 Feet From Stardom, ” “Won’t You Be My Neighbor? ”), it scratches, seethes, grapples and sometimes flails, as if it had been desperate to make sense of the outcome that still feels raw and unresolved. That is a testament to the millions of people all over the world who watched, learn, followed and loved Bourdain, and who remain not only shattered but mystified by his death, by the lack of someone who always seemed so insistently, voraciously alive.

Those who knew Bourdain best, several of whom are usually interviewed here, have their own questions as well as answers. Neville introduces them in a literal setting-the-table montage — a fitting introduction for a celebrity profile that sometimes plays just like a collective seance, with a contact of the too-late intervention. There are as much exasperation and fury as there is affection during these remembrances (“He committed committing suicide, the f—ing a—hole! ” one interviewee sputters on the outset), offered up with the unspoken acknowledgment that Bourdain himself wouldn’t have desired anything less than an honest response.


Bourdain’s own savage honesty and self-lacerating humor helped propel him in order to unexpected literary stardom using the 2000 publication of their dishy, revelatory and extremely successful memoir “Kitchen Confidential. ” In offering upward an unauthorized, bracingly unsanitized look inside the world of restaurant kitchens, Bourdain, a 44-year-old chef at the New york brasserie Les Halles, may have bitten the hand that fed him (and fed everyone). But he also revealed a remarkable talent meant for writing, storytelling and, perhaps most important, reinventing himself. This individual was the lowly disgruntled cook who became the bestselling bad-boy whistleblower who grew to become the world-traveling TV character who became something greater and more unpredictable still: a good epicure of the people, the debunker of cultural misconceptions and assumptions, the consummate global outsider-as-insider.

A man sits on a low stool eating noodles from a bowl

Anthony Bourdain in the documentary “Roadrunner. ”

(CNN / Focus Features)

Neville and his editors, Eileen Meyer and Aaron Wickenden, carve and shape the particular footage with a hurtling momentum that echoes the one-thing-after-another rush of Bourdain’s personal career. Their story begins, fittingly, right around the moment when folks started following him around with cameras. It’s enormously moving to see the young Tony Bourdain, tall and lanky as ever but darker of hair and healthier of spirit, hanging around his kitchen and an apartment whose rent he could barely cover at the time. (He shared this with Nancy, his very first wife, to whom he was married for two decades. ) And it’s wonderful to relive the early days of his success, all the more so because the movie doesn’t simply leap from milestone to milestone; at every turn, by using his achievements to cut its way back to the heart associated with who Bourdain was.

And who was this individual? A chain smoker, an excellent writer, a recovering drug addict, an incurable passionate. Also not the easiest associated with colleagues, and not a natural TV host at first, per their longtime producers Lydia Tenaglia and Christopher Collins, who have began working with Bourdain around the Food Network series “A Cook’s Tour. ” When long the paradoxical key to his onscreen identity emerged: He had the uncommon ability to magnetize the camera’s attention and then displace that will attention onto the people this individual was meeting, the food he was eating, the areas he was exploring. He was both a strong, powerful personality and an admirably self-effacing one, an expert renowned for his humbleness and approachability. And his increasing curiosity about the world — prior to working in TV, he hadn’t traveled much — dovetailed with a heightened awareness of the injustices and the specific role of food in that political-cultural ecosystem.

The particular show itself became the catalyst and the conduit for Bourdain’s own soul searching, carried out with loyal behind-the-scenes collaborators — including Tom Vitale, Morgan Fallon, Helen Cho and Michael Steed — who speak with warmth and candor about Bourdain’s perfectionism, his controlling streak great irascible brilliance. They discuss his intense cinephilia, the way he fashioned certain episodes of his shows, which includes “No Reservations” and “Parts Unknown, ” as tributes to classic movies. (“Apocalypse Now” looms heavily more than an early “A Cook’s Tour” episode devoted to Vietnam, one of Bourdain’s favorite destinations. ) Elsewhere, the documentary remains on a few episodes — a 2006 shoot in Lebanon that coincided along with conflict between Israel and Hezbollah, a 2011 visit to post-earthquake Haiti — that led Bourdain to an outstanding reconsideration of how his work could either reinforce or challenge the status quo.

That creative evolution transpired alongside similar convulsions in the personal life. His initial marriage ended, and in 2007 he wed Ottavia Busia, with whom he had a daughter — a life-altering experience for anyone, but specifically for Bourdain, who never thought he’d be a father. Bourdain’s personal and professional evolution is charted with awareness and insight. Well-known culinary chefs like Éric Ripert plus David Chang describe the particular joys and frustrations associated with his friendship. We obtain a sense of someone whose thrilling highs — an extraordinary new career, a beautiful new family — were answered simply by crushing lows, including the difficulties of being on the road for more compared to 200 days a year. In the event that “Roadrunner” has a thesis, it’s that everything about Bourdain, from his outsized achievement to his fear of mediocrity, was rooted in serially addictive patterns. Drugs or any drugs, he had a way associated with turning every new interest into an all-consuming infatuation. (Busia, a mixed martial artist, recalls how intently Bourdain threw himself straight into Brazilian jiu-jitsu. )

Two men sit across from each other at a metal table with ketchup and mustard dispensers on it.

David Chang and Anthony Bourdain in the movie “Roadrunner: A Film About Anthony Bourdain. ”

(Focus Features, in association with Zero Stage Zero)

After their own marriage ended, the movie theorizes, Bourdain found his final and most destructive obsession: the particular actress and filmmaker Asia Argento, who became his romantic partner and creative collaborator (she directed the particular 2018 Hong Kong episode of his series “Parts Unknown”). She also became a prominent if not uncontroversial figure in the #MeToo movement, plus her searing sexual-assault accusations against Harvey Weinstein zinc coated Bourdain into his own ferocious, no-holds-barred activism. That activism is regarded mostly with skepticism here by his friends and colleagues, who dismiss it as the byproduct of his blind loyalty to a lover who would prove each emotionally volatile and flagrantly untrustworthy.


It was at this point, incidentally, that I found me personally not entirely trusting “Roadrunner. ” Bourdain’s advocacy could very well have been motivated by really like (incidentally, a lot of worthwhile advocacy is). But there’s something troubling and distasteful in regards to the way this documentary trivializes it, leaving behind a whiff of misogyny that grows more pronounced with the not-so-subtle collective insinuation that the girl Bourdain loved was effectively to blame for his death. The filmmakers would likely argue that they’ve insinuated no such point; one colleague takes aches to reassert that Bourdain alone bears the responsibility just for his actions. But the subtly accusatory tone of these passages speaks louder than any persons words. So does the particular conspicuous absence of Argento, who seem to isn’t interviewed.

Those who are interviewed remember their particular friend and colleague having an intense commingling of suffering and rage, best portrayed by a sequence in which a mural of Bourdain is defaced by the artist David Choe, one of his longtime friends. But that anger can also be its own expression of enjoy, and the fact that it all seems so unprocessed and unfiltered is what makes this movie this kind of strange and sometimes troubling gift to its audience. For two hours it locations Bourdain’s voice alongside the particular voices of those who understood him, as if they were still able to converse on the same spiritual plane. There’s beauty plus solace in that illusion, set up movie can’t — and perhaps shouldn’t — begin to solution the unbearably sad query that haunts every frame.

‘Roadrunner: A Film About Anthony Bourdain’

Rated: R, for language throughout

Running time: 1 hour, 59 minutes

Playing: Starts July 16 in general release