WARNING: This review contains references to suicide. If you or someone you know is in crisis, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255 or text HOME to 741741 to reach a trained counselor at the Crisis Text Line.
First and foremost, do not see Roadrunner: A Film About Anthony Bourdain if you are grappling with suicidal thoughts. This movie should come with a massive TRIGGER WARNING because it’s messages about depression and suicide are incredibly bleak. Also, don’t see this movie if you are expecting revelations about Bourdain’s choice to kill himself. There aren’t any.
Director Morgan Neville (20 Feet from Stardom, Won’t You Be My Neighbor) explores Anthony Bourdain’s life primarily through footage from award-winning shows like No Reservations and Parts Unknown, so it always looks fantastic. We watch Bourdain’s ascent from chef to famous author, a move he never quite seemed to believe or trust. Before long, he’s easing into the role of TV-host, and then the uncomfortable idol so many of us loved.
Roadrunner clips along at a fast pace so it takes a while to realize you’re not seeing or learning anything new about Anthony Bourdain. You are, however, looking at this footage with the 20/20 hindsight of his death, so the signs are everywhere (sometimes even blatantly stated by Bourdain). A big chunk of this film is spent watching him slide in and out of depression, with uncomfortable messages like “it doesn’t get better” and “there are no happy endings.” It’s unpleasant and sometimes even feels a bit sadistic.
I think it’s far too soon to be studying this man and the choices he made. If another five years had passed, we could’ve possibly revisited Bourdain’s daughter to see how her life had moved on without him. There might have even been some redemption from the heartbreak he left behind. She’s too young to interview though so instead, we briefly watch her walk the dog with her mother (for me, one of the saddest scenes in the movie). Roadrunner ends with a hollow thud soon after, and the hole Bourdain left behind somehow more cavernous than ever.
I can’t help but wonder what Anthony Bourdain would think of Roadrunner, this lush look at his celebrated life and death. How would he feel as he watched the tearful testimonies of heartbroken friends and family? What would he think to see his young daughter, left to grieve without him? Would he stand by the decisions he made in his life or, after two solid hours of world-travels, unbridled success and boundless adoration, would he shake his head and mutter, “What an asshole?”