Tribeca 2021 Review: ‘Roadrunner: A Film About Anthony Bourdain’ investigates the life and death of an icon

Celebrity deaths are strange. Many people feel connected to celebrities for many reasons, and each one affects us differently. Anthony Bourdain affected a great many people. The fast-talking bad boy of the culinary world, the man who spent 200 plus days per year travelling to show us the world we lived in, did not seem the type to take his own life. Yet, he did, and we are left with no answers.

Roadrunner: A Film About Anthony Bourdain does not promise you those answers, as they are unknowable. What it does do is examine the life of a man who took everything he did as far as he could take it. A man whose propensity for speaking fast and frankly about his whole life, demons and all, made him an icon.

Bourdain shot to stardom after the publication of his first book, Kitchen Confidential, now one of the most famous books written by a chef. In it, he revealed some of the dirty secrets of the high-end restaurant business as well as his own journey through it. It was direct and open, and that was the persona we would all come to know Bourdain by; that of a man whose life was an open book and who freely spoke of his own demons and addictions in addition to his successes.

Roadrunner follows him from the publication of that book in 2000 through to his death in 2018. It chronicles his rise to stardom and his natural ability at hosting shows about food, and his passion for seeing the world.

Anthony Bourdain

Director Morgan Neville can show Bourdain as a whole person through home video footage, footage from his shows, and interviews with Bourdain’s friends. The film, much like Bourdain, is not shy about telling us the entire story with an openness that perhaps lives up to the reputation of the man himself. It seems to me that Bourdain would not want his demons hidden in death any more than in life, despite an early clip of him speaking saying that when he dies, he wanted as little fanfare as possible. “Just, ‘reported dead’ will be fine,” he says.

As mentioned above, there are no easy answers about his death. No one factor can explain why he took his own life, not his tumultuous relationship with Asia Argento nor the demons of his past. It does seem that while perhaps Bourdain was able to get over the heroin problems of his early life, he remained an addict. Sometimes it feels like we can get over an addiction, but sometimes they shift from one place to another. Bourdain’s seemed like he might be addicted to his work, to travel, and to seeing new things and experiencing new thrills. Perhaps toward the end, those things couldn’t sustain him in the same way anymore, especially after some key support structures were disrupted.

That is just a guess on my part, but it’s one that fits. I can’t say for sure, and neither can anyone else. Roadrunner can only tell you Bourdain’s story, and it does so in the same spirit that he lived his life: openly and honestly, and without hagiography.

Rating: 4/5

Roadrunner: A Film About Anthony Bourdain is playing as part of Tribeca at Home for US audiences through June 23rd and will premiere in theatres on July 16th.


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