Roadrunner: A Film About Anthony Bourdain Movie Review
I never really cared about Anthony Bourdain. I’d seen maybe an episode or two of his show at some point, and of course knew who he was, but hadn’t read his books, followed him on his quests, or knew him as anything more than one of countless celebrities who had a following for whatever reason.
Despite rave reviews, I wasn’t particularly interested in the documentary Roadrunner, either. From afar it seemed like a documentary made for his fans, because who else besides friends and family would care for a story about this man’s life? Couple that disinterest with my narrow preferences for documentaries--they typically have to involve a horrendous crime or speak to a massive global or humanitarian issue--and Roadrunner is a film I almost passed by.
But I didn’t, and I’m glad for it.
The first third of Roadrunner barely held my interest… it’s about some chain-smoking, low-level cook who aspires to something greater and slowly, or quickly, catches some breaks that propel him into unexpected stardom. Whatever.
But as filmmaker Morgan Neville methodically peels back the onion, Roadrunner taps into the qualities that made Anthony Bourdain a household name--and that ultimately led to his suicide. Neville does a fantastic job stripping away Bourdain’s mythos and showcasing the man for what he truly was. Someone great. Someone extremely flawed. An ordinary man elevated to a pedestal, built upon a crumbling foundation.
There’s nothing fancy about the documentary itself; it’s as routine as one can be, a mix of footage (no shortage there, for obvious reasons) and interviews with friends and coworkers (noticeably absent is Asia Argento, his late-life girlfriend and at times collaborator). But Roadrunner thrives on the synergy of the pieces Neville has assembled, intricately weaving together Anthony Bourdain’s life postmortem.
At times it feels as though Neville shies away from diving into the salacious, hinting at more that is never revealed. Several people refer to a trip to Hong Kong that was the beginning of the end, and yet the film dances around exactly what went down. There are frustrating moments like this throughout the final act, which chronicles Bourdain’s descent into depression and beyond, where Neville is unwilling to take the final plunge into the dark side of Bourdain’s soul.
Roadrunner is at times a fascinating exploration of an individual being torn apart, while others a love letter to this complex, oft-wonderful man and his devoted fans. It isn’t a perfect film, but it’s an honest one.
Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.