I didn’t really know who Anthony Bourdain was till he died. I was aware of him, but never watched anything he’d done save his cameo in The Big Short. After he passed I spent that summer watching Parts Unknown and really enjoyed it.
Bourdain was good at what he did but there was always this weird vibe around it all — rich people dining in barrios and slums and Waffle Houses before jetting private back to their 10k a night hotel suites. The man was a lottery winner and he knew it. He was a New York chef ex-addict who had some talent for writing and was friends with a publisher. That’s how all this started. So maybe that was the problem. It was all an act he couldn’t live with; that plus getting cheated on by Asia Argento (who seems like an awful person even when you consider the soft bias held by the film). To me, Bourdain looked older than 61 when he died.
I have to admit, I walked out of this movie pissed off. Morgan Neville, who directed it, also did the stupendous Mr. Rogers documentary Won’t You Be My Neighbor, which was released the same month Bourdain killed himself. That movie felt great to watch. This one does not feel good to watch. Both in subject and in execution.
The first part of movie consists of interviews with people who knew Bourdain— most of them comfortably rich and looking like the type of folks who snap at waiters — and a few people who worked for him. In all honesty there’s barely any real “biography” here — we barely get any information on Bourdain prior to 1999 when he published Kitchen Confidential, the book that made him famous. After that we see a lot of repurposed shots from the tv shows he was in, some b-roll. There’s narration, a small portion of it some creepily-unidentifiable AI and most of it Bourdain himself. The movie’s last third is said interviewees theorizing on Bourdain’s suicide over shots of him staring plaintively over breathtaking vistas and waterways and country bonfires and stroking a white horse at one point. After he offs himself, we get the cliche shots of street side memorials with handwritten notes like “you are not alone” and suicide hotline links. Interviewees cry and talk about how they’re feeling. It all feels… off.
One of my favorite quotes is from Hunter S Thompson, a person some consider Bourdain to be a cultural descendant of — “Some people get rich and others eat shit and die”. This is a movie is about people who got rich off the people eating shit, and it…