I’ve just finished watching Morgan Neville‘s Roadrunner: A Film About Anthony Bourdain (Focus Features, 7.16), and I have to say something plain and clear and straight.
One, the first 80 to 90 minutes are just okay. At times they almost feel a bit boring. But two, during the final 30 or 40 minutes the film dives into the “what happened during the final few weeks of Bourdain’s life, and why did he fucking hang himself?” section, and by the end the viewer has been left with a clear impression that Bourdain’s relationship with the notoriously edgy and prickly Asia Argento was a giddy, obsessive thing that intensified Bourdain’s hot plate and jarred his sense of emotional equilibrium.
I’m not saying the film convinced me that Argento “killed” him in some way — Bourdain sadly did that all to himself — but she definitely shook him up and rattled his composure and brought him to the edge of a cliff.
Bourdain was a moody, free-associating, nakedly honest fellow with a tendency to occasionally fall into caves of depression, and he swan-dove into the Argento relationship without the slightest sense of measured, step-by-step gradualism. Frank Sinatra once sang “let’s take it nice and easy…it’s gonna be so easy.” Bourdain definitely didn’t do that with Argento.
There’s a stocky guy from Bourdain’s camera crew who tells Neville that Anthony was “a lifelong addictive personality, addicted to another person [i.e., Argento]. He didn’t understand he would drive someone away if he didn’t stop talking about [how great she was]…you could see her pulling back and he just wouldn’t stop.”
So in a way Bourdain was kind of smothering Argento, and so just before his death she performed that public affair in Rome with Hugo Clement (which is definitely mentioned in the film) in order to say to Bourdain “back off, don’t smother me, let me be free” but in so doing SHE LED HIM RIGHT TO THE EDGE OF THE FUCKING CLIFF and then left him there. She didn’t push him — Bourdain jumped of his own accord. But had it not been for his relationship with her, Bourdain might well be alive today. This is definitely what the film leaves you with.
The thing I wanted to make clear when I began this piece is that Indiewire‘s Eric Kohn and Collider‘s Matt Goldberg were dead fucking wrong to write that there’s something unseemly about Neville trying to solve the riddle of why Bourdain killed himself during the last 30 to 40 minutes.
It’s the only portion of Roadrunner that really holds you. The rest of it is just mildly okay….it glides along, bobs and weaves, laughs and basks, covers this, covers that, blah blah.
But the section that asks “what went wrong and why is this cool, fascinating guy dead?” is grave and powerful.
Kohn wrote with a straight face that “by all indications, Argento brought Bourdain to a new plane of happiness in his final months, when he hired her to direct an episode [of Parts Unknown] in Hong Kong shortly before his death…it also gave him a renewed sense of purpose as he became a public voice in the #MeToo scandal with Argento’s revelations about being raped by Harvey Weinstein.”
That is partly true but mostly horseshit — that is NOT what the film claims. There are rumblings that Argento didn’t handle the directing of that Hong Kong episode like a pro, and we learn that when Zach Zamboni, Bourdain’s longtime cameraman, criticized Argento’s choices or work ethic or whatever that Bourdain fired him on the spot. It’s clear, yes, that while Bourdain was a solid partner and supporter of Argento, his feelings for her were obsessive…he was head over heels in love to the point that he seemed to lose sight of his traditional sense of cool.
Goldberg wrote that “a suicide is not a crime to be solved” — except a documentary about a man’s life demands that all questions be asked and all dark corners probed. If he killed himself you obviously have to go there, and not in some brief, glancing, chickenshit way. Goldberg says that such an inquiry “cannot comfort, and it cannot illuminate” — wrong. Roadrunner does illuminate to a certain degree, and what it says is perfectly clear — the allegedly oddball Argento was a negative trigger influence in the final weeks of Bourdain’s life, and if anyone has reason to feel at least somewhat guilty about his suicide, it’s her. You’d better fucking believe it.