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At The Movies: The joy and pain of ‘Anthony Bourdain’

Editor’s Note: The following movie review contains references to suicide.

I didn’t really want to see “Roadrunner: A Film About Anthony Bourdain.”

In addition to being turned off by the awkward, confusing and noncommittal title of the film, I am still upset with Anthony Bourdain for killing himself.

I didn’t know Bourdain. I never met the man. Nor was I particularly a fan of his television shows or his books. My mother chuckled at his TV shows and more than once tried to corral me into watching one of his shows. My impression was that Bourdain was an egomaniac TV personality who was insufferable. Then again, isn’t that a prerequisite to become a TV show host?

After seeing “Roadrunner: A Film About Anthony Bourdain,” I am even more upset with Bourdain for hanging himself in a hotel room in France in 2018 at age 61 while on location for his CNN show, “Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown.”

At the time of his death, Bourdain was at the top of the foodie chain.

The film sketches Bourdain’s career: The Culinary Institute of America graduate; executive chef, Brasserie Les Halles, New York City; author (“Kitchen Confidential: Adventures in the Culinary Underbelly” (2000), which brought him “overnight” fame, and TV travel and culinary show host (“A Cook’s Tour,” Food Network, 2002, 2003: “Anthony Bourdain: No Reservations,” 2005-2012, Travel Channel; “Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown,” CNN, 2013-2019, which received a Peabody Award for the 2013 season.

“Roadrunner” director Morgan Neville (Oscar recipient, documentary, “20 Feet From Stardom,” 2014; director, “Won’t You Be My Neighbor?,” 2018, an excellent documentary about Mr. Rogers) provides keen insight. We glimpse Bourdain beyond the camera, as seemingly candid as his TV and pubic persona was. Through photographs, home video, the television shows and outtakes, we are privy to Bourdain’s asides, wordless moments of reflection, nervous walking, blurted inappropriate comments, chain-smoking, direct-address to camera, martial-arts contests, and a psychiatric counseling session. Neville gets under Bourdain’s skin, into his mind and inside his heart.

Bourdain was a beautiful man. In Neville’s documentary, you can’t help but be intrigued by Bourdain. He’s erudite, whip-smart, with knowledge about all kinds of things, often brutally-honest, sarcastic as all get-out, cracking wise like a game of three-dimensional chess, charming, and handsome in every decade of his life. Simply, a lovely man.

Bourdain was so full of life. He brimmed with brio, bravado and bonhomie.

Bourdain was apparently full of death, too. He was as dangerous as the chef’s knife he kept razor-sharp.

Bourdain seemed to be the proverbial man in the lonely crowd. His incessant traveling for his TV shows seemed to be an obsession. He couldn’t get away from himself, though. He couldn’t outrun the road. He couldn’t fill the hole in his heart.

Bourdain left behind a first wife; a second wife, Ottavia, and their daughter on whom he doted when he wasn’t globe-trotting, and a girlfriend who either did or did not reject him in the end depending on the tabloid (literally shown in the film).

Bourdain also left behind a loyal and talented TV show staff of producer, director, cinematographer, editor, and friends who recount on camera the joy and pain of Bourdain. It’s heartbreaking. They cry. You’ll cry.

I am glad I saw “Roadrunner: A Film About Anthony Bourdain.” The film’s title is still unfortunate, reminding me of the Warner Brothers’ cartoon character. The soundtrack’s “Roadrunner” (1976) by Jonathan Richman & The Modern Lovers” doesn’t cut it, either, unless you interpret Bourdain as a Kerouac of cuisine. Or perhaps “Roadrunner” is a reference to the restaurant term, food-runner, a server assistant. And why is it “A Film About”? Bourdain was unknowable, apparently, and tragically, especially to himself.

The film examines issues of the developed versus undeveloped world, the parachuting in of a western Caucasian man of privilege into third-world countries to bring back video postcards of Vietnam, Laos and African cuisine and culture for feet-up entertainment in the comfort of our home-screen lives.

“Roadrunner” is the perfect post-pandemic (Is it thus?) film. One wonders if his shows could be produced in these socially-distanced times. The whole concept of his telegenic career seems quaint now, somehow.

I care little about fine wines, gourmet food and Michelin Guide restaurant rankings and the trappings of the world of Bourdain. I go for the atmosphere, despite my dad’s dictum that “You can’t eat the wallpaper.” Mostly, I enjoy an Allentown Farmers’ Market South Korean noodle stand, Bethlehem pizza joint or Allentown steak sandwich shop (having cut 25,600 pounds of steak sandwich meat one summer job) as much as any on Zagat.

And yet I now do care about “Roadrunner: A Film About Anthony Bourdain.” Don’t miss it. And I care about Anthony Bourdain. I have no reservations. I miss him.

One can have survivors’ guilt, I suppose, even if you’ve only seen this excellent documentary film. I may go back for seconds.

“Roadrunner: A Film About Anthony Bourdain,”

MPAA rated Rated R (Restricted Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian. Contains some adult material. Parents are urged to learn more about the film before taking their young children with them.) for language throughout; Genre: Runtime: 1 hr., 59 min.; Distributed by Focus Features.

Credit Readers Anonymous:

“Roadrunner: A Film About Anthony Bourdain” is controversial for its digital technology approximation of Bourdain’s voice for certain emails which are read on the film’s soundtrack.

At The Moves:

“Roadrunner” was seen on a discount movie night at the Movie Tavern Trexlertown. The parking lot was nearly full of movie-goers’ cars.

Suicide Hotline:

The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline provides 24/7 free and confidential support for people in distress, prevention and crisis resources for you or your loved ones, and best practices for professionals via a toll-free hotline: 1-800-273-8255.

Movie Box Office,

July 23-25: Director M. Night Shyamalan’s “Old” opened at No. 1 with $16.8 million, in 3,355 theaters, keeping “Snake Eyes” opening at No. 2, with $13.3 million, in 3,521 theaters, as “Black Widow” slipped one place to No. 3, with $11.6 million, in 4,250 theaters; $154.8 million, three weeks, and dropping “Space Jam: A New Legacy” three places from No. 1 to No. 4 with $9.5 million, in 4,002 theaters; $51.3 million, two weeks.

5. “F9: The Fast Saga” stayed in place, $4.8 million, in 2,850 theaters, $163.5 million, five weeks. 6. “Escape Room: Tournament Of Champions” dropped three places, with $3.5 million, in 2,815 theaters, $16.1 million, two weeks. 7. “The Boss Baby: Family Business” dropped two places, $2.8 million, in 2,773 theaters, $50.2 million, four weeks. 8. “The Forever Purge” dropped two places, $2.3 million, in 2,113 theaters, $40.3 million, four weeks. 9. ”A Quiet Place Part II” dropped two places, $1.2 million, in 1,397 theaters, $157.4 million, nine weeks. 10. “Roadrunner: A Film About Anthony Bourdain,” $879,630 million, in 954 theaters, $3.7 million, two weeks.


July 30:

“Jungle Cruise,”

PG-13: Jaume Collet-Serra directs Dwayne Johnson, Emily Blunt, Edgar Ramírez and Jesse Plemons in the Action, Adventure, Comedy, Fantasy. The movie is based on Disneyland’s theme park ride.

“The Green Knight,”

R: David Lowery directs Dev Patel, Alicia Vikander, Joel Edgerton and Sarita Choudhury in the Adventure, Drama, Fantasy. The medieval story of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight is retold.


R: Tom McCarthy directs Matt Damon, Abigail Breslin, Camille Cottin and Ginifer Ree in the in the Crime, Drama, Thriller. A father travels to France where his daughter is in prison for murder.

“Enemies of the State,”

No MPAA rating: Sonia Kennebeck directs Joel Widman, Stuart Anderson, Nemo Baletic and Angela Barbosa in the Documentary. A family’s son, who is a hacker, is targeted.

“Nine Days,”

R: Edson Oda directs Brandy Pitcher, Eric Ramaekers, Eliza de Azevedo Brown and Lisa Starrett in the Drama, Fantasy. A man interviews souls for a change to be born.

“Midnight in the Switchgrass,”

R: Randall Emmett directs Emile Hirsch, Megan Fox, Bruce Willis and Lukas Haas in the Thriller. An FBI agent and a Florida police officer investigate unsolved murder cases

“Ride the Eagle,”

No MPAA Rating: Trent O’Donnell directs J.K. Simmons, Jake Johnson, Susan Sarandon and D’Arcy Carden in the Comedy, Drama. A son’s inheritance of his mother’s Yosemite cabin is based on a bizarre to-do list.

Four Popcorn Boxes out of Five

CONTRIBUTED PHOTO COURTESY FOCUS FEATURES Anthony Bourdain, on location, “Roadrunner: A Film About Anthony Bourdain.”