Documentary Review: ‘Roadrunner: A Film About Anthony Bourdain’

Review by Lauryn Angel

I walked out of the theater after watching Roadrunner: A Film About Anthony Bourdain feeling generally positive about Morgan Neville’s film. I have a couple of issues with the final third of the film, but overall, I enjoyed it.

The documentary begins in 1999, when Bourdain received a book deal to write Kitchen Confidential, the book that launched his second career as a writer and culinary adventurer. The film includes interviews with Bourdain’s friends, family, and co-workers, including Lydia Tynaglia and Christopher Collins, who originally convinced Bourdain to let them film his research trip for A Cook’s Tour, launching his television career, and Tom Vitale, director and producer of No Reservations and Parts Unknown. Along with the interviews, Neville uses archival footage and sound-bites from Bourdain’s projects and interviews and home videos and personal photographs in an attempt to create an authentic picture of the man. It’s at times joyous and at times heart-breaking.

Part of the issue, however, is with authenticity. Since seeing the film, I’ve read that Neville used an AI program to create some of the narration – specifically an email and a couple of other pieces that Bourdain did write, but never spoke. While Neville claims he had the permission of Bourdain’s estate, Bourdain’s ex-wife Ottavia Busia says she was never asked and that Bourdain would have hated this. On the other hand, there’s a bit early in the film with Bourdain saying that as long as it’s entertaining, he doesn’t care what happens to his body – but does that carry over to his voice? My issue with this is not so much that it has been done, but the fact that it was not disclosed. I remember thinking that an email with such a tone of despair is a strange thing for Bourdain to have recorded, but knowing that it was deep-faked makes more sense.

Another issue I have with the final third of the film is that Neville does not have an interview with Asia Argento, Bourdain’s girlfriend at the time of his suicide. It’s clear that some of the interviewees in the film feel that their relationship was not good for him – that he transferred his additive personality onto her – while others are emphatic in placing blame for the suicide on Bourdain himself. It seems to me that having Argento’s voice here would have given more insight into Bourdain’s last years.

Overall, I do recommend the documentary for fans of Anthony Bourdain, and even for those who never watched his shows or read his books, as it really explains why he is so beloved by many of us.

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