It’s hard to believe it’s been more than three years since Anthony Bourdain took his life in a French hotel room. A larger-than-life personality in and out of the kitchen, Bourdain’s zest for travel, culture and exploration made him an enigmatic figure with a devoted fan following. The cameras are turned toward him once again in Roadrunner: A Film About Anthony Bourdain, as his friends and colleagues attempt to both celebrate and make sense of the man they knew and loved.
The film opens with Bourdain and his longtime friend Éric Ripert ruminating on death, in what turned out to be one of his final moments on camera. “Throw me in a wood chipper and spray me into Harrods at rush hour. I wouldn’t mind being remembered that way,” he quips. Perhaps we let Anthony down by not doing just that. Instead, the people who knew him best are choosing to remember him here for who he was: the highs, the lows, the food, the travel and everything in between. It’s a doc that takes a non-traditional approach—picking up after his Kitchen Confidential exposé turned him into a star—and delivers a keen look at the chef who turned travel journalism into a career.
Director Morgan Neville carefully draws us a picture of a man who seemed to love life but who also hid a darkness beneath his famous TV personality. A former addict, Bourdain was a man who grappled not just with his celebrity status, but with a life on the road. He relished the opportunity to travel the world but at times, resented that it took him away from his daughter. Relationships stretched thin, marriages crumbled, but throughout, Bourdain remained a hard working—pushing himself and his crew hard to get the perfect shot.
Roadrunner tells his story using not just interviews and personal videos, but film clips too—a fitting inclusion for a man who loved cinema and the arts. An obsession with Apocalypse Now drives his trips into the jungle and clips of Rashomon highlight the fact that recollections of the man himself may vary. When the film dips into interviews, it features with an impressive variety of people from within Bourdain’s circle—from his celeb chef pals and his longtime director, producers, and cinematographer who travelled the globe with him, to his brother, his second ex-wife, and the friends he collected through his travels. Each discussion runs the gamut of raw emotions, with subjects often vacillating between anger, tears, and laughter.
At times, it is difficult to comprehend that this magnanimous personality is no longer with us. It’s at these difficult moments that a sadness creeps in; when his friends look back at their encounters for clues of the sadder, darker man within. Increasingly melancholic in his later years, Bourdain opened up and shared his thoughts of self-harm while in Argentina. It’s another indication that he was, as this portrait of him suggests, a man of extremes.
There is no doubt Bourdain was a passionate figure but, as his friends point out, his passions would often turn into mania. Trading an addiction to drugs for an addiction to travel and romance, friends describe a man obsessed with his last girlfriend, Asia Argento. Sharing a love of—and a connection to—films, Bourdain fell hard and fast but predicted the relationship would end badly. He was right. Days before he took his own life, pictures of Argento kissing another man were splashed across the tabloids.
It is in this final chapter that Roadrunner enters somewhat salacious territory. Though Argento did not participate, her presence looms over the film. The family members, friends, and crew who were with Bourdain in those final days stop short of pointing the finger at her as the catalyst for his actions, but they make their criticisms of her known—hinting that the soured relationship led to his final, impulsive act. In the end though, as one friend muses, Bourdain is the only person to blame for his death. Understandably emotional, his friends are still angry about what happened but come alive when remembering him.
A must-see for any devotee of Bourdain, Roadrunner is a fitting tribute to a complex man. Though his story reaches a tragic conclusion, Roadrunner is a reminder of all he celebrated in life and, for just a few hours, it feels like he’s still with us.
Roadrunner: A Film About Anthony Bourdain arrives in theatres on July 16.
If you or someone you know is in crisis and needs help, resources are available. In case of an emergency, please call 911 for immediate help.
The Canadian Association for Suicide Prevention, Depression Hurts and Kids Help Phone 1-800-668-6868 all offer ways of getting help if you, or someone you know, may be suffering from mental health issues.
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