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Tribeca 2021: “Roadrunner: A Film About Anthony Bourdain” (Review)

Anthony Bourdain rose to fame after his bestselling book “Kitchen Confidential: Adventures in the Culinary Underbelly” was released in 2000.

By that point, he had already spent over two decades working in restaurants all over New York City. As a celebrity chef he was reluctant, but it did open the door to opportunities he previously could have only dreamed of.

News of his death by suicide in early June of 2018 was simply shocking and still hard to fathom. No matter how famous or how rich you become, addiction and depression can feel insurmountable.

Director Morgan Neville (“20 Feet From Stardom,” “Won’t You Be My Neighbor?”) never had a chance to meet Bourdain. When this project was conceived, the one thing that made it simultaneously easy and overwhelming to tackle was the fact that Bourdain had spent over fifteen years being followed by camera crews around the world, wrote constantly, and there were even audiobook recordings in his own voice that would go a long way in telling his story.

A few years have passed since his death, but the loss is palpable in interviews with those closest to him. Friends and colleagues like David Chang and Eric Ripert, who was shooting a television episode with Bourdain in France when he died, are visibly emotional on screen with Chang telling a tearful story about a surprisingly cruel exchange between them.

Moments like that are few and far between, mostly we get thrilling recollections of the early days of the ‘Parts Unknown’ series from collaborators Lydia Tenaglia and Christopher Collins. In the beginning, it was literally just the two of them following Bourdain on his travels before he learned to find comfort with the cameras rolling. It is a genuine treat to see so much behind the scenes footage from those early excursions.

As the documentary moves towards the end of his life, it does become more difficult to watch. In particular, footage of him in his last relationship with actress and director Asia Argento illustrates the increasing turbulence of his emotional state in those final months.

Anthony Bourdain opened our hearts and minds to more than just food on a plate. His observations about the world and food will resonate for decades to come. Backed with an incredible soundtrack of Bourdain’s favorite artists, ‘Roadrunner’ is an endearing tribute to a man with who got a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to share his passions with the world and we’re all better for it.

Focus Features is releasing “Roadrunner: A Film About Anthony Bourdain” in theaters on July 16. Later this year, the film will air on CNN and then be available for streaming through HBO Max (dates tbd).

The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is a United States-based suicide prevention network of over 160 crisis centers that provides 24/7 service via a toll-free hotline with the number 1-800-273-8255. It is available to anyone in suicidal crisis or emotional distress.

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