When one thinks of Anthony Bourdain it’s easy to fall in love with the image of a towering man who went to all corner of the globe experiencing the world. Bourdain’s rock and roll attitude and propensity to never take shit from anyone elevated him to a cultural icon overnight. No one had ever taken on the restaurant industry like Bourdain had. Very few had the balls to do that. Yet the more he went against the establishment, the bigger he became.
We adored him because we wanted to be this badass we watched on television. This is why his death in 2018 was so shocking and shattered his legions of fans. How can someone who seemingly had the world at his fingertips choose to end his life prematurely? Was there something that we weren’t seeing?
Director Morgan Neville pretty much confirms what most had accepted about Bourdain for years. He would put everything he had onscreen and let everything else fall apart. It’s as if he knew that his time was limited with us. Anthony even muses about his passing, stating, “he doesn’t want a big show unless it could provide entertainment value.” Once again, putting the public first even as it pertains to his own death.
People tend to forget that his rise to fame was pretty meteoric as it pertains to Anthony. One moment, he’s the executive chef at Les Halles and then seemingly he’s on Oprah. The look on his face was priceless. He was generally confused as to how this even occurred. Fame happened overnight, and no one seemed more shocked by this than Bourdain himself. His show became an obsession, and with each taping, someone faced his wrath. The film goes into his quest to maintain such high levels of authenticity, which was nearly impossible to maintain constantly. He attempted to broaden the scope of the show by traveling to places like Lebanon and the Democratic Republic of Congo, showing the world varying degrees of suffering going on the world. What’s crazy is his insatiable drive to seek out life in its many forms only brought suffering to himself.
How can anyone have a normal life with the schedule he had to keep? How could anyone be attentive to your child or spouse when most of the year you are traveling the globe. Bourdain’s widow, Ottavia, gives some pretty frank commentary on what ultimately lead to his undoing. At times, Roadrunner hammers home how his life was a contradiction. While he freely admits at different points during the documentary how he’s happiest when he’s cooking at home for the family, but Bourdain does everything in his power to sabotage that. Perhaps, he felt that happily ever after was never in the cards for him, no matter how much he wanted it.
Even as he attempted to find happiness with Asia Argento after his marriage to Ottavia fell apart, Neville makes the case that this former heroin addict turned best-selling author was seeking answers to why he deserved the trappings of life. His inability to solve that question is what ultimately lead to his passing. Roadrunner: A Film About Anthony Bourdain honors his legacy, his vibrant spirit and shines a bright light on the stranglehold mental illness can have on another human being.
Roadrunner: A Film About Anthony Bourdain doesn’t seek to crack any mysteries surrounding what lead to Bourdain’s suicide but does paint the picture of a man so driven that it likely contributed to his downfall. The question does become though what the best-selling author seeking. Was his globe-trotting spirit inspired by a desire to find new cuisines in exotic locales? No, it seems Bourdain was sought moments that exemplified humanity and all its warts. Whether it was going into the jungle or traveling the Sahara, it seems he was seeking out life as it happened. Why? Perhaps he sought to learn from it. Roadrunner paints the picture of a man who was never comfortable in his own skin. No matter how much fame, fortune, and goodwill he would bestow on others, it didn’t matter. Documentarian Morgan Neville’s film wipes away the mystique of this towering cultural icon and leaves us to see a man holding on by a thread.
This review is from the 2021 Tribeca Film Festival. Focus Features will release Roadrunner: A Film About Anthony Bourdain on July 16, 2021 only in theaters.
Photo courtesy of CNN / Focus Features