Review: 'Roadrunner' offers intimate, fascinating peek behind late Anthony Bourdain
Courtesy of Focus Features
Acclaimed filmmaker Morgan Nevell is back in the ring with “Roadrunner: A Film About Anthony Bourdain,” which assembles an array of archival audio and video footage, in addition to those who were close to Anthony Bourdain, the world renowned chief, television personality and NY Times best selling author, before he tragically took his own life in 2018. Nevell tries to better educate fans and himself on the confusion that steams from someone hellbent on living their life to the fullest committing suicide. As someone who wasn’t frequent on Bourdain’s television and cooking exploits, I found “Roadrunner” to be a fascinating exploration of who the man was and how his infectious mantra turned him into a household name, but the structuring occasionally throws off the balance.
“Roadrunner” documents the glory days of Bourdain’s career up until the end, taking us back to circa 1999 on the heels of his explosive novel “Kitchen Confidential” to filming “Parts Unknown.” We watch as the young Bourdain deals with his first bout of fame, appearing on popular television programs and encountering random bystanders on the street to juggling a busy family life and filming schedule. His ascension to A-list celebrity was remarkable in that it’s exceedingly rare for chefs and authors to achieve face recognition on the scale he did. Bourdain excelled in his field, and was quick at adapting to surroundings. Nevell thoughtfully curated “Roadrunner” as if Bourdain were still with us and the subjects who participated in the interviews-assistants, agents, and family members-complement that objective.
The film’s best sections, cut together breezily by Eileen Meyer and Aaron Wickenden, analyze Bourdain’s evolving traits as a father, host, and human being. Keeping in tune with Bourdain’s zappy energy, “Roadrunner,” not ironically, moves at a quick tempo with all the free flowing attitude and tenacity he would've appreciated. For a solid middle portion of the film, “Roadrunner” uses Bourdain’s own audio voice overs to further contextualize the man behind the persona. We learn about his influences, and what makes him tick, and at the same time, want to grab our nearest luggage and head for the airport.
But the momentum hits a snag in the film’s latter half where “Roadrunner” attempts to unearth and examine Bourdain’s plunge into depression. Hearing some of the folks try to get into Bourdain’s headspace and understand why he took his own life doesn’t hit with a resounding emotional thud and tiptoes around the bigger issue. We know the inevitable is going to happen, (there’s a voiceover of Bourdain literally saying in the beginning: “It’s not gonna have a happy ending”) so it casts this dark shadow over “Roadrunner.”
Awkward structural issues aside, it’s a daunting task for any filmmaker to try and immortalize an icon, and “Roadrunner” atones for most of its sins by giving us quality time with Bourdain, a man larger than life. Neville, who helmed feel good titles “20 Feet from Stardom” and “Won’t You Be My Neighbor,” might struggle to get a grip on the tougher, emotional sequences, but the overall scope and outlook on the legacy of Bourdain’s career makes you miss and appreciate him all the same.
ROADRUNNER: A FILM ABOUT ANTHONY BOURDAIN opens in theaters Friday, July 16th.