How do you begin to understand a man who so often embraced the mystery? Someone who often was the first to admit that he didn’t have the answers that people were asking, so, therefore, didn’t feel comfortable trying to answer them? Even more so – how do you try to make sense of something tragic happening to this said man? Anthony Bourdain was a figure who embraced the nuance of conversation because he knew that the human condition of longing for answers to deeply complicated questions was the basis of the best conversations and experiences worth having. It only feels fitting that Morgan Neville’s documentary operates in such grey areas as well. After all, how do you fit Bourdain’s life, career, and impact into one film?
One of the most interesting things Roadrunner does from the get-go is starting at the end of Bourdain’s life – addressing the elephant in the room, so to speak. To try and interview some of his closest friends about what he meant to them and vice versa, it feels right to address their complicated feelings about how he passed away right off the bat. The film never feels like it lingers on that topic more than it should, but it also doesn’t shy away from the inherent wonder of why he did what he did and how that reflects the art and people he left behind.
There’s a fascinating divide here between the personality that Bourdain became to the populace and how he operated as a human being when he wasn’t filming. Of course, a lot of the appeal of Bourdain’s show was his genuine love for the things he was talking about and his wonderful ability not to be the star of his own show or specials to give others a platform or voice. Roadrunner never once tells you that he wasn’t genuine when doing those things; hell, it even reaffirms them – it just simply tells you the truth of the toll that it took on him and the relationships with those closest to him.
Neville thoughtfully examines a complicated man who left the world in an equally complicated way. For once, we finally get a peek behind the curtain at someone whose personality was somehow simultaneously larger than life and extraordinarily humble all at once. The film urges us to reach out to our friends who might be in need but to also find a way to live life like Bourdain did and ask questions that we can admit we may never know a concrete answer to; and Roadrunner does the same as a documentary when it comes to trying to tell the story of his life and all the questions that arise when trying to make sense of his legacy. It finds beauty, heartache, and all the wonderful, complicated, nuanced emotions and questions that Bourdain himself probably would’ve wanted people to have.