The late, great celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain - who committed suicide in 2018 - would have absolutely hated "Roadrunner: A Film About Anthony Bourdain."
That's really all that needs to be said about Morgan Neville's ("Won't You Be My Nieghbor?", "20 Feet from Stardom") latest bio-doc.
Anthony was one hell of a presence, a rebel-spirit and master chef who became a household name after releasing his memoir, "Kitchen Confidential: Adventures in the Culinary Underbelly," back in 2000. The new doc, "Roadrunner" is appropriately titled, in that Bourdain was somewhat of a nomad, a guy who was always on the move and who was not meant to settle-down. Most knew of him due to his travel shows, "A Cook's Tour," that ran on The Food Network, followed by The Travel Channel's "Anthony Bourdain: No Reservations" and on CNN's "Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown." The basic premise of his shows was that he would travel to far away, exotic places, and partake in their unusual cuisine and culture, seen through the eyes of a man who never ever played by the rules.
Anthony Bourdain is an absolutely fascinating person, don't get me wrong. "Roadrunner" does offer some sort of catharsis for audience members missing him, after he abruptly ended his own life after seemingly living on top of the world. There are far worse people to spend a few hours with, and he is a worthy subject of a documentary.
The problems though, are nearly too many to count. In the opening scene of the film, Bourdain jokes about his death, all but stating how he wouldn't be interested in any sort of memorial. With his familiarly unique dark sense of humor, he joked that only if his dead body was put in a wood-chipper and sprayed out over a crowd, would he be interested in such things. When the film ends with a shot of Bourdain walking barefoot down a beach, a close confidant quips that Bourdain would have hated that shot and that ending.
Between those two points, we get a lot about Bourdain's career and life, but as told mostly by two producers who worked closely with him, and a few celebrity chefs he befriended along the way. He married his first wife, Nancy Putkowski, who was his high school sweetheart, and they were together for over two decades, but strangely she only appears in archival footage. His second wife, Ottavia Busia, of whom Bourdain had his only child (daughter, Ariane) with, does appear on-camera, and offers perhaps the most actual insight into Bourdain's life. His last fling was with Italian actress Asia Argento, and the film all but blames his suicide on a paparazzi report that showed her hanging and kissing on another man (Argento too, is not interviewed for the film). Surely there was more to this complicated man's demise than jealousy.
A long-time drug addict, Bourdain never quite felt comfortable, and friends described his stint as a married man and having a child as a "detour" to his life, not the sign that he was on the right track...his track was actually one that - looking back - could only end in anguish. And Bourdain was such a gifted wordsmith and writer, that "Roadrunner" never offers a dull moment with him...he's infinitely charming and interesting.
But this packaged, measured take on his life reeks of inauthenticity. It wasn't surprising when news broke this week that portions of the voice-over heard in the film was actually "deep fake" audio of Bourdain's voice...meaning that the documentary mocked up audio of Bourdain speaking that he never actually spoke. The recordings were of things that he had written, but this shows you the level of manipulation the filmmaker is willing to reach for in painting the picture of his subject.
"Deep fakes" aside, if you tried deconstructing the film like a contestant on "The Taste" (in which Anthony co-hosted) deconstructs a bite of food, you would find projection and speculation as being the main ingredients. Anthony Bourdain was so outside the box in his life, that it just sucks that his lasting legacy with the public will be a boxed-in documentary, one that's too afraid to push any buttons or innovate in any way. That seems like the antithesis of the man.
Anthony Bourdain would have hated "Roadrunner," and I've always admired his legendary ability to detect bullshit when he saw it, not to mention his impeccable sense of taste.
Run Time: 1 hour 58 minutes.
Directed by Morgan Neville ("Won't You Be My Neighbor?", "20 Feet from Stardom").
"Roadrunner: A Film About Anthony Bourdain" is in theaters on Friday, July 16th, 2021.
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