You’re probably gonna cry.
Not right away, mind you, and not simply because an interesting person you probably never met died, but because the conditions and implications of Anthony Bourdain’s death are complicated—and because filmmaker Morgan Neville (Won’t You Be My Neighbor) takes a look at the former chef, writer and TV star’s life and eventual suicide while it still feels recent and raw for those who knew him—and those who felt they did.
We get a clearer idea of the man than we ever had before. Bourdain never shied away from personal stories during his years hosting shows like No Reservations and Parts Unknown, but there’s something more intimate about the impressions of exes, longtime creative partners and friends. More than one calls Bourdain an asshole. More than one posits he must have been lonely. Those who can never sit still are often trying to outrun some sort of pain, the film hypothesizes. It finally caught up to Bourdain.
Still, we see it all, from the uncomfortable early days during which Bourdain learned to tap into his non-food creativity to the all-encompassing way he’d fall in love. His message ultimately became about experiencing cultures and people, not solely foods, and the omnipresent subtext in all of Bourdain’s wheelings and dealings seemed to carry a simple message: You don’t have to be afraid. Perhaps he just wanted to believe that so badly himself and couldn’t; perhaps it’s as his circle says in the film, and it was really more about shining a light on people who needed help.
Pity, then, that those interviewed practically blame Bourdain’s suicide on his final partner, the actress Asia Argento. No one says those words, per se, but it’s all there and feels reductive. Bourdain was no saint, he’d be the first to say, and maybe making the film so soon after his death means clarity takes a hit. Either way, anyone who ever found themselves in an emotionally volatile relationship probably knows the feeling that if they didn’t let go of that person’s hand, you’d both drown; given Bourdain’s staunch support of #MeToo, he probably would have had something to say about the pseudo-accusations against Argento, too. She does not appear in the film.
But a cavalcade of others do, from David Chang and David Choe to ex-wife Ottavia Busia, longtime chef friend Eric Ripert and others. Their love is palpable, as is their frustration. The film, thus, winds up very good and very challenging, if flawed.
You don’t have to be afraid. That has a nice ring.
+Amazing footage; the message
Roadrunner: A Film About Anthony Bourdain
Directed by Neville
Violet Crown; R, 119 min.
National Suicide Hotline: 800-273-8255