UPDATE: Since I originally wrote this review, it has come to my attention that director Morgan Neville utilized A.I. technology to recreate Anthony Bourdain's voice for the film's narration. This, of course, raises some serious ethical concerns and it does recontextualize the documentary somewhat. However, my original thoughts on the film remain unedited below.
The life of the chef-turned-author and television star is told in Roadrunner: A Film About Anthony Bourdain. In 1999, after three decades in the culinary business, then 43-year-old chef Anthony Bourdain released his memoir “Kitchen Confidential: Adventures in the Culinary Underbelly.” The success of the book elevated Bourdain to a new level of celebrity and he soon became known as the host of the television series Chef's Tour and Parts Unknown, where he would travel to exotic locations and try out the local cuisine. However, Anthony Bourdain also suffered from personal demons, which would lead to his tragic suicide in 2018.
Roadrunner: A Film about Anthony Bourdain is a biographical documentary from Academy Award-winning filmmaker Morgan Neville (Twenty Feet from Stardom, Won't You Be My Neighbour) about the life and career of celebrity chef and television host Anthony Bourdain. Opting not to delve too much into his early years, the story of Roadrunner kicks off with the 1999 release of his memoir “Kitchen Confidential,” which revealed many long-held secrets of the restaurant trade. The immense success of the book resulted in him becoming hired to host the television series Chef's Tour and its follow-up Parts Unknown, both of which had him trying out the local cuisine, while his narration would often on the state of the country he is in, particularly in 2006 when he found himself stuck in Beirut during the start of a war with Israel. In his later years, Anthony Bourdain would become a devoted family man, though failures in his personal life would eventually drive him to hang himself at the age of 61.
It is an interesting touch in Roadrunner: A Film About Anthony Bourdain in how Morgan Neville makes use of archival material to essentially have Anthony Bourdain posthumously narrate the documentary. In fact, the film is predominantly created out of archival footage, accompanied by talking-head interviews with, the producers of his television shows, Lydia Tenaglia and Christopher Collins, along with his ex-wife Ottavia Busia-Bourdain and his brother Chris Bourdain.
One of the goals of Roadrunner seems to be about theorizing why Anthony Bourdain ended up taking his own life, which was something that he often joked about. The film briefly mentions his history with heroin addiction, though the best hypothesis for his suicide is a depression that set in after the divorce from his second wife Ottavia, which left him wondering whether was loveable. This resulted in him becoming a different person during the final year of his life, including a disastrous shoot for his TV series in Hong Kong.
While Roadrunner probably could have benefited more from featuring more of Anthony Bourdain's early years, the film is still an intriguing look back at probably the most atypical of celebrity chefs.
Roadrunner: A Film About Anthony Bourdain opens on Friday, July 16, 2021
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