It’s June 2006 and I find myself at the Hollywood Farmer’s Market as I lived in West Hollywood at the time and 2006 was when it was still a true Farmer’s Market, not the bougie ‘let’s sell a piece of cheese for $40’ booths it has now. It was a true place of fresh picked fruit and veggies that everyone in town came to shop at. So imagine my surprise when I see Anthony Bourdain sitting there at a table, autographing his latest book. I mean the man that once ate a cobra snake heart is there, albeit looking a little out of his element with a somewhat fake smile plastered on his face, posing for the cameras, greeting fans etc. But being the professional he was at that time, he handled it all like it was just another episode of his then show on the Travel Channel “No Reservations” – the show that brought him the fame he so craved, yet as you find out during “RoadRunner: A Film About Anthony Bourdain”, might also have been just fulfilling a part of his addictive side.
“Roadrunner” opens with a short look at how Bourdain became well, Bourdain. Through the journey which started in 1999, shows how the publication of Kitchen Confidential, in essence Bourdain’s memoir, that coincidentally was one of the best books ever written about the restaurant industry – leads to his TV career, and eventually to him becoming TV’s foremost ‘man about food’. I mean Anthony basically begged the question “How do you eat your way across the world?” and then proceeded to show us exactly how to do just that. But as his hit series ‘No Reservations’ went on, it became clear that his shows became about way more than just the food. As we watched, or I did at least, how Bourdain himself noticeably grew up over the years as well. And so it became not just about the food, but about the places and the people making the food around him as well. And honestly how could it not when in 2006 while filming No Reservations in Beirut, we watch as a war breaks out right in front of him and his film crew, between Lebanon and Israel. It’s almost surreal as you see how it effects Bourdain himself as people are lying about a pool, with bombs bursting in the air maybe 5 miles away. It’s an episode that everyone involved agreed profoundly changed Bourdain’s career, and his approach to the show, from that point forward.
Director Morgan Neville is giving us Bourdain just as he was, completely unfiltered, as Anthony was more than happy to share his opinions on pretty much anything and everything, and he definitely didn’t shy away from talking about his drug-riddled past. In fact it made him the person he became, along with in his love for punk rock, mostly Iggy Pop and The Ramones, both of whom he did spent time with and did shows with among the many musicians he admired. Add in his two-pack-a-day smoking habit (which he did quit after the birth of his daughter), and you have a bad-boy chef image that would stick with him, whether it was deserved or not. There was a seemingly never ending journey for a odd happiness that simply seemed to evade him even when marrying his second wife Ottavia Busia; becoming a father for the first time at age 50. His filming and production crew, most of whom had been with him since the beginning, a chore especially for his long-time crew who were finding him harder and harder to work with as he changed over to a whole new show and somewhat differing format in “Parts Unknown”. And of course it only got darker from there as Neville takes us down the final turn of Anthony’s life with the much publicized and not always liked relationship with actress Asia Argento. While he doesn’t come right out and blame Argento for Bourdain’s suicide, it’s made clear to all that his death came days after the actress appeared in tabloid photos with another man. Though to be fair, there were so many signs and Anthony himself constantly referenced how he would like to go out, to make her out to be the only source of his depression wouldn’t be right and we do see so much more, like the attempt to decode Bourdain’s final Instagram post, which shouldn’t even been tried to decode. It’s a goodbye in his own way.
We also get a good idea of how loved and respected Anthony was by giving us the appearances and thoughts of many of his peers, including his best friend Eric Ripert, his brother Chris, artist David Choe – who gives us a somewhat startling, yet insightful statement from Bourdain who tells him “and my life is sort of s— now. You are successful, and I am successful, and I’m wondering: Are you happy?” which is when we really start to realize all the cracks that have been there all along. As much as we like to look and someone else’s life and wish it to be our own, sometimes if that wish does come true, we do find out it wasn’t all it looked cracked up to be. There are ups and downs in everyone’s lives and as wonderful as it might look on the outside, the inside can be a much different story.
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Virtual screening courtesy of ~ Ginsberg/Libby PR
“ROADRUNNER: A FILM ABOUT ANTHONY BOURDAIN” IS IN SELECT THEATERS AS OF FRIDAY, JULY 16, 2021 // VOD/HBO MAX/CNN to follow.