A film about Anthony Bourdain
(Directed by Morgan Neville) (2021)
Famously rockstar-level restaurateur, best-selling author (Kitchen Confidential), martial arts expert and prolific television host, the subject of Roadrunner: A Film About Anthony Bourdain was no doubt a wildly successful man. As we have come to expect from biographical documentaries, this level of achievement means that he must also have been deeply unhappy. And often unkind. One of his friends is reduced to tears recalling Bourdain telling him, “You’ll never be a good dad”. Bourdain’s two marriages, to a childhood sweetheart and a restaurant executive, failed, in part because he was away from home for the greater part of the year and in part because he simply couldn’t be ‘normal’, which he claimed to want to be.
From 2003 until his death in 2018 Bourdain travelled (he says at one point that he had “been around the world” 26 times) making television programmes about food. It was not as much fun as it sounds.
When he’s not washing down the beating heart of a cobra with its blood, chewing something that wriggles, or stabbing pigs and chickens to death he’s posing for the camera watching television in a mediocre hotel room.
Roadrunner is interesting and worth watching because Bourdain was those things. It does suffer from its adoration of its subject, and a manufactured ‘voiceover’ by ‘Bourdain‘ which confuses, rather than engages. Perhaps
there are too many scenes of photogenic Bourdain gazing at the sky, angsty Bourdain speed-walking Asian streets at night, serious Bourdain rattling pots, grinning Bourdain smoking, bored Bourdain waving knives about,
smiling Bourdain saying ‘hi’ to admirers.
Bourdain claims to have been a heroin addict but, despite the extensive footage of him over decades, we are shown no evidence of him living the life of an addict. (Although he does seem to be intoxicated occasionally and
he was suspiciously thin).
Bourdain’s demeanour is generally arrogant, grumpy and brittle, his astonishingly charming smile only seen in one short sequence at a book reading. His friends and colleagues however, (all interviewed in restaurants),
clearly loved and miss him. One weeps, ‘he let me down’. Noticeable though is the absence of some people who were important to him such as his first wife, mentor Marco Pierre White and his final girlfriend, actor and
filmmaker, Asia Argento.
Bourdain’s friends talk about his obsessions later in life and what a bore they made him. Martial arts and the fabulousness of Asia Argento were among the subjects he raved about at great length, demonstrating a growing
neediness and lack of sensitivity. Toward the end of his life he became zealous and emotional about the Me Too movement, with which Argento was involved.
He seems to have been a faithful partner – unless that is a whitewashing – and fell apart when Argento was photographed with another man. It is possible that Argento thought the relationship was over. She is noticeably
bored when Bourdain talks at length about her astounding parking skills.
The film, which is nicely shot and crisply edited save for some repetition and flab, unsubtly points the finger at Argento as a major factor in Bourdain’s decision to hang himself in a French hotel room at the age of 61, but
that seems to have been an impulsive decision. The viewer leaves with the impression that Bourdain was tired, lonely, betrayed, overwhelmed, and perhaps, just bored with the world.