The saying goes “never meet your heroes.” Roadrunner: A movie about Anthony Bourdain hit theatre’s last weekend, giving fans a look behind the scenes at the late video journalist’s New York Times best selling book debut up until his final days before his suicide after becoming world renound throughout the years. The documentary is narrated with interviews from his close friends David Chang, Josh Homme, Bourdain’s ex-wife Ottavia, David Choe, and Éric Ripert, as well as members of the production crew from Parts Unknown. The Film is directed by Academy Award winning director Morgan Neville coming off of the Oscar winning Won’t You Be My Neighbor a biopic about the late Mr. Rogers. Roadrunner is billed as a gritty unfiltered inside look at one of the most tragic stories in television but at times seems to have disingenuous motives stemming from Bourdain’s tumultuous relationship with former girlfriend Italian Actress/Director Asia Argento. Though the movie has uplifting moments there are also brutal reminders that Anthony Bourdain was imperfect, dark, and complicated.
After lightly touching on his childhood the film’s first real benchmark is the documentation of Bourdain’s overnight run in with fame after the debut of his colorful gonzo style cooking memoir Kitchen Confidential. This endearing flashback to 1999 shows a youngman full of bewilderment still working at Les Halles, a French fine dining restaurant on Park Ave. NYC. After navigating the book’s success Bourdain by chance lands an opportunity to make a tv show. This is when we meet the husband/wife production duo Christopher Collins and Lydia Tenaglia who helped Bourdain shoot the series that turned into No Reservations, that turned into Parts Unknown turn into this story’s main narrators. The Doc shows a b-roll of the early years showing of a young, shy, uncomfortable TV Host learning on the fly. This is the films high showing a self made success story of a man so full of life with so much to offer. It is disturbing watching these interviews because the dark inevitable is looming. No one expects to watch a movie where the main protagonist kills himself at the end to be uplifting.
The film hasn’t come without its share of controversy. The documentary portrays Bourdain’s final months as a lonely spiral that was ignited by his personal demons and an unhealthy codependent relationship with Argento. The film touches lightly on the late TV Host’s addictive history with Heroin but leaves much for the imagination. In one clip it shows him in an addiction support group and he utters a heartbreaking statement about his own sobriety, “I looked in the mirror and saw someone worth saving, nobody saved me. I did it myself.” Regarding Argento the film conveniently leaves her perspective absent while the production crew bashed her and **SPOILER ALERT** allude that her alleged infidelity in the paparazzi was the reason for Bourdain’s ultimate suicide. It is also made clear that her influence was not appreciated during the final season where Bourdain made her the director on the fly leapfrogging many producers and crew who’ve waited for the opportunity. This is when the film takes a disingenuous turn from a film about a friend to a film about bitterness. At times the interviews with Bourdain’s friends feel too early and show too much grief unsurfaced. Yes, this is raw and real emotion but you want clear thought out interviews if this is going to be a monument to someone’s legacy. Though yes there were creative differences in the end and Bourdain was hard to work with but the Yoko Ono like finger pointing post mortem was hard to watch.
For hardcore fans you will see some recycled footage from the shows but seeing them from a different perspective, quality, and frame is extremely interesting. That being said the editing does have some awesome transitions but the choice to keep the light focused on Argento instead of Bourdain toward the climax of the film felt like a way to superficially keep our protagonist’s hands clean when in truth the situation is ambiguous and unchangeable. The final moments of the movie are interviews of the friends and family left in the aftermath of a suicide. One of the most poignant scenes in the movie is Bourdain’s brother reading a letter containing a poem that a fan sent him “most people forgot that Icarus flew and that his plummet was actually the just the end of his triumph.” A symbolic reference to remembering a person who dies from complicated factors like suicide. This movie searches for why Anthony died instead of looking for why he lived. Roadrunner is a polished product with charming moments, promising a deep explanation that never comes leaving a vapid tell all that leaves much for the heart to desire.
Resources: You can reach the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255) and the Samaritans Statewide Hotline (call or text) at 1-877-870-HOPE (4673). Call2Talk can be accessed by calling Massachusetts 211 or 508-532-2255 (or text c2t to 741741).
Dedicated to Julia Vasquez