A Heartbreaking Remembrance of A Great Adventurer
Anthony Bourdain is fondly remembered in a heartbreaking retrospective of a great adventurer. Roadrunner: A Film About Anthony Bourdain gives an intimate look at a complex individual. Award-winning documentary filmmaker Morgan Neville explores his life from meteoric stardom to the shocking suicide of 2018 in the province of France. Bourdain’s friends, colleagues, production team and second wife Ottavia Busia speak frankly about his tragic loss. But it’s Bourdain’s own haunting words that best illuminate his hopes, dreams, and struggles. He experienced the world on a grand scale. It was not enough to silence his personal misgivings.
Roadrunner starts in 1999 with Anthony Bourdain at age forty-three as executive chef of the French Brasserie Les Halles in New York City. A recovering cocaine and heroin addict who started out in the kitchen as a dishwasher, Bourdain was perennially in financial trouble. Philippe Lajaunie, the owner of Les Halles, comments on how Bourdain always had a hard time paying bills. But he had a strong relationship with his wife, Nancy Putkowski, and he enjoyed writing rambling essays for his close circle of friends. These prolific speeches attracted Bourdain to a book contract. “Kitchen Confidential: Adventures in the Culinary Underbelly” was an instant best-seller that propelled Anthony Bourdain into the spotlight. Soon she was on book tours, the Today Show, and even Oprah Winfrey.
The film features his agent, Kim Witherspoon, then Lydia Tenaglia and Christopher Collins, the married founders of Zero Point Zero Productions, who filmed Anthony Bourdain from the start. It is fascinating to see it in its nascent beginning on television. Tenaglia was stunned by Bourdain’s shyness. He was awkward and reserved on camera. When they booked his first series for the Travel Channel, he discovered that Bourdain had never left the country. He had only read about distant lands and people. The first images of Anthony Bourdian show the concerted effort that he put into his craft. He was not a natural, but he learned to express himself on screen through extensive written preparation.
Anthony Bourdain became a household name with the success of “A Cook’s Tour” in 2002. The next decade was a whirlwind of fame, fortune, and extensive travel. Most significant was her courtship and marriage to the Italian martial arts expert Ottavia Busia. He amazed his brother, producers and closest friends by becoming a father. Their daughter, Ariane, was born in 2007. The film has previously unseen footage of Bourdain doing his best to be a father. Cooking was her connection to family life. But Bourdain spent 250 days a year filming his various shows. He was largely absent from his family. This separation had an inevitable price.
Chefs David Chang, Eric Ripert, artist David Choe, and musician Josh Homme were dear confidants of Anthony Bourdain at this stage in his life. They argue about a man changed by the trip. His television series transformed from a culinary focus to a lifestyle. Bourdain, after heartbreaking gunfire in Lebanon and Haiti, felt the journalistic need to show real people in countries often demonized by Western media. Images from Libya, Congo and Iran show Anthony Bourdain at his most introspective. This examination of conscience, combined with her recent divorce, marked a change in her personality.
Lydia Tenaglia, her longtime directors and production assistants had major problems with Asia Argento. Bourdain fell in love with the Italian actress. He had a manic approach that drew attention to his interests. Asia Argento became an integral part of her popular CNN show “Parts Unknown.” She then went public, as part of the burgeoning Me Too movement, her rape by Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein. Bourdain, who had largely stayed away from social commentary, went after Weinstein with a tinge of fire. He had found a famous cause, but it was born entirely out of his obsession with Argento. The movie is straightforward in this regard. The images of the Zero Point Zero team showing disgust at Argento’s presence are pretty obvious.
RoadrunnerThe final act will make you cry. It’s hard to see those who worked, knew and loved Anthony Bourdain deal with his suicide. Eric Ripert, who was filming with Bourdain in France at the time of his death, refuses to talk about it, others openly cry. He had a daughter who loved him and needed him. They don’t understand how he could have left her behind. David Choe, in a particularly harrowing interview, speaks of his overwhelming sadness and anger at the glorification of Bourdain’s suicide. Ottavia Busia, in his final public comments, wonders what he could have done differently.
Anthony Bourdain speaks candidly throughout the film about his early adoption of the rock star spirit. He rebelled against a good education to be an addict. He thought that one could not be really well without suffering. In his most poignant vignette, he acknowledges that he had a great life and that he was lucky to be loved. Depression is a dark cloud that blocks hope. It’s heartbreaking to think that he felt so much loneliness in his final moments.
Help is available 24 hours a day from the National Suicide Prevention Hotline, (800) 273-8255. Please call if you feel desperate and lonely.. Roadrunner: A Film About Anthony Bourdain is a CNN Films, Tremolo Productions, HBO Max and Zero Point Zero production. Focus Features will release it in theaters on July 16.