New Bourdain Film Shows 'the Empath and the Narcissist'

'Haunting,' 'brilliant,' and 'troubling' are just some of the descriptors for Morgan Neville's documentary
By Jenn Gidman,  Newser Staff
Posted Jul 16, 2021 11:17 AM CDT

It's been just over three years since celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain died by suicide at the age of 61, and a new documentary by filmmaker Morgan Neville hopes to shed some light not only on Bourdain's life, but also on the aftermath of his death. Roadrunner: A Film About Anthony Bourdain, in theaters Friday, is receiving high marks on Rotten Tomatoes, with a 96% rating from critics. That's not to say there aren't issues, specifically regarding the narrative over Bourdain's relationship with actress Asia Argento, as well as Neville's use of artificial intelligence to simulate Bourdain's voice. In an interview with the Wall Street Journal, Neville talks about the former, saying he used "tremendous restraint" and showed only "a fraction of what was there" between Bourdain and Argento. Why Neville really wants people to watch, however, is because of what Bourdain managed to do while he was with us: "dimensionalize people and places on the far side of the world." Some of the reviews and feedback:

  • Writing for Slate, Dana Stevens calls the film a "brilliant, sometimes troubling documentary about a brilliant, sometimes troubling man." The movie can get emotional at times, Stevens writes, especially during scenes showing his loved ones still trying to work through his death. The segment focusing on Argento is problematic, however, with Stevens noting it "veers uncomfortably close to villainization." Still, it's "a testament to the overall success of Neville's portrait of Bourdain that in spite of a flaw that major, Roadrunner is more than worth watching."
  • "Brilliant" and "troubled" is the similar conclusion reached by Jeannette Catsoulis in her own review in the New York Times, which calls the movie a "sharp and vividly compelling" film. What Catsoulis especially appreciates about Neville's work is his ability to show Bourdain in all his dimensions, as "both the empath and the narcissist: the man who refused to turn the suffering he saw in war zones into a bland televisual package, and the one who would betray longtime colleagues to please a new lover."
  • Jason Sheehan points out that the film starts not at the beginning of Bourdain's life, but right at the point when he became famous: in his 40s, when his book Kitchen Confidential became a bestseller. "It isn't about the rise so much as the apex—stretched out across almost two decades," Sheehan writes for NPR. But even more striking for Sheehan, an admitted fan, are the revelations. "I thought I knew him a little. I was wrong," he writes. He also warns viewers: "There are no answers in Roadrunner."
  • In the New Yorker, Helen Rosner calls Neville's film "haunting," and one that portrays Bourdain as "both the hero and the villain of his own story." But she also brings up some "ethically murky" problems, including what she says was the surprising fact that Neville didn't interview Argento for the film. She also addresses the AI issue with Neville, in which "Bourdain" can be heard in a voice-over reading aloud one of his own emails. Neville says there are other Bourdain lines in the film that were also AI-created, and he tells Rosner: "We can have a documentary-ethics panel about it later."
(More movie review stories.)

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