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Roadrunner Goes in Search of Anthony Bourdain

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Roadrunner: A Film About Anthony Bourdain is aptly subtitled: This is not a documentary about food, or about traveling the world, although food and travel shots abound—but rather an autopsy of one man’s life. Anthony Bourdain’s story—that of a middle-class kid turned junkie turned line cook turned chef turned bestselling author turned beloved globetrotting TV star—is already familiar to many. A documentary about him could have been a clip show of the weirdest things he ate, the most famous people he ate with, the most spectacular places he visited, and the many regular lives he touched. Fortunately, that is not the film Morgan Neville (20 Feet From Stardom, Won’t You Be My Neighbor?) has chosen to make. Bourdain’s shows No Reservations and Parts Unknown were and remain highly watchable, but Roadrunner is not an easy film to watch, nor to process in hindsight.

“He committed suicide, the fucking asshole,” the artist John Lurie says in an interview three minutes in, setting the tone for all that follows. Like so many fans, I found Bourdain’s death three years ago shattering, but it didn’t occur to me to reconsider the demands and difficulties of his life. I deeply admired his shows, his books, his public persona, the lifestyle and values he modeled, his candor in interviews, and of course his taste in food—everything about him seemed aspirational. Without questioning Bourdain’s goodness or greatness, Roadrunner confronts us with the human costs of a remarkable public life, especially one powered by personal demons. The qualities that made Bourdain so relatable to so many—the addictive personality, the world-weariness, the charisma masking shyness, the snark masking empathy and sensitivity, the total contempt for phoniness, and the anxiety that he himself might be a phony—all seem to foreshadow his fate. Neville also offers glimpses of a Bourdain we’ve never seen before—a very ordinary, loving, all-American paterfamilias grilling poolside, at peace with himself—and captures the toll that the work of showing us the world took on him.

Drawing on vast troves of footage produced over nearly two decades of TV appearances, Neville is able to make Bourdain a posthumous narrator of his own life, accompanied by interviewees such as Bourdain’s second wife, Ottavia Busia—the mother of his only child—as well as multiple former members of his TV crew and friends like chefs David Chang and Eric........

© New Republic

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