Synopsis: A documentary about Anthony Bourdain and his career as a chef, writer and host, revered and renowned for his authentic approach to food, culture and travel.
Stars: Anthony Bourdain, Ottavia Bourdain, David Chang, Helen M. Cho, David Choe, Christopher Collins, Morgan Fallon, Joshua Homme, Alison Mosshart, Doug Quint, Eric Ripert, Lydia Tenaglia, Tom Vitale
Director: Morgan Neville
Running Length: 118 minutes
AFIDocs Review: Here
TMMM Score: (7/10)
Review: I’d originally caught this documentary at the AFI Docs Film Festival which ran from June 22-27 where this was scheduled pretty perfectly on Bourdain Day. In my original review, I said that Roadrunner: A Film About Anthony Bourdain was “an intriguing look at a very complicated man, a documentary that balances a warts and all approach with a deeply felt sense of loss at the empty seat at the table left by his suicide in 2018.” I’d still stick by that statement even now, after some recent information has come out that called some of the methods director Morgan Neville used to piece together the narrative structure of the film into question. We’ll get into that in a minute but it’s worth noting how many critics are doing such an about-face based on this nugget of news. It’s like we’ve never been emotionally manipulated before…weird.
I’ve had my ups and downs with Bourdain over the years, starting out hot with his early entry into popular entertainment courtesy of his bestselling book Kitchen Confidential that was later turned into a very short-lived television show starring newcomer Bradley Cooper. Bouncing right into the groundbreaking Anthony Bourdain: No Reservations, a hybrid of travel/cooking show that he largely pioneered, Bourdain became known for his extreme tastes and willingness to try just about anything. That’s about when I started to drift away to less spicier meals that didn’t always seek to press the hardest of buttons with such vigor.
Bourdain just rubbed me the wrong way, and from what I gather in director Neville’s sharp interviews in his highly glossy doc (in true Bourdain style, I might add), many of his closest friends felt that way at one time or another as well. A few of them seemed to not like him very much at different points in their relationship…like the man that sobs recalling when Bourdain, in a depressive funk, cuts him down by saying he would never be a good father. Ouch. I’d cry too. I’d still be crying. The world-traveling, zest for life, consume anything bad boy chef is what was presented to the viewer. That’s the Tony many saw on camera but not the one that struggled with crippling self-doubt, depression, or a need to be loved/perfect. Neville interviews numerous people in his life: bosses, co-workers, colleagues, ex-wives, friends, and they all paint a picture of a man that lived hard and loved at the same speed.
At nearly two hours, Roadrunner: A Film About Anthony Bourdain is a lot of Bourdain to take and the trajectory of his life is approached by Neville in fairly standard measures, so it plays easily, even when it grows slightly staid. The final fifteen minutes, when discussing Bourdain’s death and the aftermath are when Neville’s expertise as a filmmaker really shows and also when the emotional ripple through his circle of friends takes its notable toll. Fans of Bourdain will, I think, find this hard to watch and rightfully so…it’s likely Neville’s point to show the impact of such an act.
Is this perhaps why the headlines in the days up until the wide release have been all about how Neville essentially used a deep fake of Bourdain’s voice to narrate parts of the film he wanted to nudge in a particular direction? Feeding over 10 hours of Bourdain’s voice into a computer and then using that compiled voice to speak requested “lines” seems like a big issue if we’re talking true documentary realism…right? While it may add dramatic effect to the movie for the general public, it has most certainly cost Neville any awards respect it could have earned. And this is an Oscar-winning director already.
Bourdain was a popular personality and I’m confident Roadrunner: A Film About Anthony Bourdain will still prove to be a project that is much sought-after and not just by foodies that know their salad fork from their dinner fork. This has crossover potential for even those with casual knowledge of Bourdain – but now I think not by those who are put off by some slick tricks by the filmmakers.