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Roadrunner: A Film About Anthony Bourdain

  • Film
  • 4 out of 5 stars
  • Recommended
Photograph: Courtesy of CNN / Focus Features

Time Out says

4 out of 5 stars

The free-spirited yet troubled gourmand gets the poignant eulogy his life deserves

A confession: I was never the biggest Anthony Bourdain fan. Although enamoured with his shows – from No Reservations to Parts Unknown – and in awe of his poetic prowess and travel expertise, there was something about him that always felt self-manufactured to me. I could never seem to get to the heart of his being, although all of his projects came from a deeply emotional point of view. I wasn’t even able to crack that impression after meeting and interviewing him in person a few years back during an event in New York City. 

Now, three years after his passing by suicide and on the cusp of the release of Roadrunner: A Film About Anthony Bourdain, a new documentary about his life and career by Oscar-winning director Morgan Neville (20 Feet From Stardom), one thing is finally clear: Bourdain never really cared to show off the man behind the shell. Or, perhaps, he never really knew how.

That should come as no surprise: given the global shock that his untimely death caused, how could we ever have thought to have really known the celebrity? 

Kicking off in 1999 as Bourdain prepares for the release of Kitchen Confidential, the book that eventually changed the course of his life, the documentary features an impressive amount of raw footage in addition to interviews with folks closest to him. The latter group includes his second wife and mother of his daughter Ottavia Busia, chef Éric Ripert (who found Bourdain unresponsive in his hotel room in France on that unforgettable day in 2018), the directors and cameramen that worked very closely with him on his various productions throughout the years and his brother Christopher, among others.

The conversations and confessions of Bourdain’s closest kin propel the story forward, while feeling a little intrusive at the same time. Although three years have passed, the wounds caused by Bourdain’s erratic behavior – one fuelled by drug use and psychological torments – and his disappearance still feel fresh. They are still noticeable in the disposition and sadness that peek through the eyes and words of those interviewed for the documentary, a production that ends up feeling just as poetically entertaining and nostalgic as an episode of Parts Unknown.

And, yet, one specific aspect of the celebrity’s life is left virtually unexplored and the choice feels like a missed opportunity. Although Bourdain’s known early addiction to drugs is alluded to, it is never confronted head-on. Those closest to him mention not wanting to remember him for that or his bouts of depression, but if the highs and lows portrayed in the production are to be given the importance they deserve, shouldn’t we also face their potential causes?

Roadrunner was a chance to talk about the role that drugs play in the life of an artist – which is exactly what Bourdain was: an artist dealing in foods and words and travels in ways that few can match.

In a way, though, the avoidance of the topic feels understandable. Bourdain’s illustrious career should amount to more than his suicide and it should be defined by more than his relationship to drugs. But Roadrunner does undoubtedly leave viewers with a weird aftertaste that points to the lack of something, an absence of closure. Perhaps, though, what we’re actually missing isn’t a conversation about the perils of mental illness and drug usage but Bourdain himself. 

In US theaters Jul 16

Anna Rahmanan
Written by
Anna Rahmanan

Cast and crew

  • Director:Morgan Neville
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