Roadrunner: A Film About Anthony Bourdain
By Tara McNamara,
Common Sense Media Reviewer
Common Sense Media Reviewers
Lots of smoking, drinking, language in Bourdain documentary.
A Lot or a Little?
What you will—and won't—find in this movie.
If you only watch what the television shows you, you miss the whole picture. As Bourdain says, "The least you can do is see the world with open eyes." The most important message -- especially given that the film presents Bourdain in a way that supports the suicidal ideation fantasy of being remembered, missed, and legendary -- is that you're never alone; if you need help and you feel you don't have anyone else to talk to, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 800-273-8255.
Positive Role Models
Bourdain was a complicated, complex person. He was a scrappy dishwasher who succeeded by staying authentic to himself, saying yes to opportunity, being open to new experiences. He worked to minimize cultural barriers through food, conversation, and showing the truth, even if it was messy or heartbreaking. He had a diverse group of friends, co-workers, partners. But he had a drug habit, drank heavily, was difficult to work with, and he ultimately died via suicide. Bourdain's ex-girlfriend is vilified.
Violence & Scariness
Bourdain and his companions kill and gut animals on camera, including cutting out and eating a cobra's beating heart. Bourdain is shown shooting ducks, with images of duck carcasses. Long conversation about Bourdain's death, without details. References to rape and Bourdain's activism in holding #MeToo perpetrators accountable.
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Sex, Romance & Nudity
Reflections on Bourdain's romances with wives and a girlfriend. One interview segment has artwork of a topless woman in the background. Scene shows outside of a strip club. Brief movie clip shows people making out.
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Extremely heavy profanity throughout, including "ass," "a--hole," "crap," "damn," "s--t," and constant use of "f--k." "S--k my d--k." "Jesus" as an exclamation.
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Drinking, Drugs & Smoking
Bourdain ultimately quit drugs, but he had an addictive personality and latched on to other hobbies, interests, and people -- which led to his success and, potentially, his demise. He was a heavy smoker and drinker, and he's joined in these activities by his colleagues, who are celebrity chefs, musicians, artists. Joke instructing others "to smoke weed."
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Parents Need to Know
Parents need to know that Roadrunner: A Film About Anthony Bourdain is a documentary that examines the inner life of the celebrity chef and travel host who died via suicide in 2018 at the age of 61. Bourdain overcame a dependency on heroin, redirecting his addictive personality into other avenues. But he drank and smoked with zeal, and he's frank about doing drugs, from the point of view of wanting to be a junkie. Teens may not perceive the consequences of his substance (ab)use, but they are likely to pick up on the fact that his all-in attitude also led to him becoming a world-famous success -- so it might be worth having a conversation about the double-edged nature of that aspect of his personality. The movie more or less blames Bourdain's death on his ex-girlfriend, who's vilified. Bourdain himself is never let off the hook for being difficult, but he's also celebrated. And while the film definitely shares important messages about the way he saw the world with open eyes and shared it, it also supports a suicidal ideation fantasy: Here, Bourdain is remembered, he's missed, and he's legendary. Expect extreme, persistent profanity ("f--k," "d--k"), some sexual content, and animals being killed in potentially upsetting ways (for example, a cobra's beating heart is cut out and eaten).
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Roadrunner: A Film About Anthony Bourdain
Based on 1 parent review
An interesting, complicated and ultimately sad story that meanders a bit too much at the end
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What's the Story?
ROADRUNNER: A FILM ABOUT ANTHONY BOURDAIN is a documentary about the colorful life of the adventuring chef. Through interviews with friends and colleagues and archival footage of the man himself, the film reveals what it meant to Bourdain to live life like an explorer.
Is It Any Good?
Bourdain was a trip, but this journey wears you out. The Roadrunner title is apropos: The film begins like a shot from a starting pistol, racing through the life details of a young man in wild times who took an undesirable job as a dishwasher and turned it into an exciting career and celebrity status. Bourdain drew respect through his ability to experience everything, and not just through observational traveling. His point of view was so broad -- he was a creative person and yet a businessman, part of the working class and yet an intellectual elite, someone who lived big by examining the small details, lovable yet difficult, and tightly disciplined yet ruled by his addictive personality. The film skates through the drug use of Bourdain's early years but doesn't luxuriate there, and while it acknowledges that he was a chain-smoker ("Happiness is a fresh pack," he laughs), it doesn't really delve into his passion for drinking, although he's shown with glass in hand quite a bit. The problem is that this road seems to go on and on, the editor apparently unwilling to cut unnecessary material (we really don't need to know about Bourdain's fondness for sharp knives). And the movie is downright passive-aggressive about vilifying Bourdain's last girlfriend and then walking it back.
While it's unlikely that many teens will make it to the end of this two-hour journey, the facts of how Bourdain's life ended are important to consider if young people do decide to watch. And it begs the question: If you cinematically celebrate the glamorous life of a dazzling personality who died via suicide, are you glamorizing that decision? It's a question that Bourdain's buddy David Choe hints at in the epilogue, and director Morgan Neville allows the artist-actor the last word to try to squelch any accusations that his documentary might contribute to suicide fantasies. But when someone -- for example, a depressed person with suicidal ideation -- is looking to confirm their world view, do they accept that bow tied neatly at the top, or are they going to rip into the whole of the present you hand them?
Talk to Your Kids About ...
Families can talk about how some say that the media has glamorized suicide as proof of artistic genius. Does Roadrunner fall into or avoid that idea? The documentary suggests that those who are contemplating suicide call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-8255. What other resources are available to help both kids and adults?
Why do you think Bourdain attributes his success to initially taking a job as a dishwasher? How did feeding his curiosity propel his success? What else can you learn from Bourdain's life?
Does Roadrunner make drugs, drinking, and smoking look fun or appealing? Why, or why not? Why is it important for kids to see consequences in movies?
"Be a traveler, not a tourist" is on a sign behind Bourdain. What do you think that means? Further, what did he mean when he said "the least I can do is see the world with open eyes"?
- In theaters: July 16, 2021
- On DVD or streaming: August 6, 2021
- Cast: Anthony Bourdain, David Chang, Lydia Tenaglia
- Director: Morgan Neville
- Studio: Focus Features
- Genre: Documentary
- Topics: Cooking and Baking
- Character Strengths: Communication, Curiosity
- Run time: 118 minutes
- MPAA rating: R
- MPAA explanation: language throughout
- Last updated: October 8, 2022
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