Summer viewing: Roadrunner

(a little break from Summer Reads this week…)

Anthony Bourdain's Roadrunner movie poster.

Last week, thanks to the kind folks at Touchwood PR and Focus Features, I got to preview new Anthony Bourdain film, Roadrunner!

(so did paying subscribers to my newsletter – want in on those types of goodies? Subscribe here).

I am/was a huge Bourdain fan (he died by suicide in June 2018), having seen him speak in person at least twice, read most of his books and having been an avid viewer of his many TV series. When he died, I was heartbroken, devastated, shocked. As was most of the world. I remember the day he died, my social media was ONLY Bourdain content – it was quite extraordinary how he managed to touch so many diverse lives. And whether you liked him or not (he was quite a divisive character), I think most of us would be hard pressed to NOT have some kind of memory about a Bourdain moment. A quote, a show, a book, a recipe.

So when I was invited to a virtual preview of the new film, Roadrunner (it came out in cinemas across North America on July 16th 2021), I couldn’t have been more curious.

Watch the trailer here:

About the film:

It’s not where you go. It’s what you leave behind…Chef, writer, adventurer, provocateur: Anthony Bourdain lived his life unabashedly. Roadrunner: A Film About Anthony Bourdain is an intimate, behind-the-scenes look at how an anonymous chef became a world-renowned cultural icon. From Academy Award®-winning filmmaker Morgan Neville (20 Feet From Stardom, Won’t You Be My Neighbor?), this unflinching look at Bourdain reverberates with his presence, in his own voice and in the way he indelibly impacted the world around him.

From Touchwood PR:

The documentary by Academy-Award winner Morgan Neville centres around the late, great chef and travel documentarian. The film chronicles Bourdain’s life as a culinaryicon and inveterate adventurer, while shining a light on his mental health issues. Featuring commentary from some of Bourdain’s family, friends and long-time collaborators, we’re given a behind-the-scenes look into his humble beginnings and the legacy he left behind.

I was intrigued to know what MORE footage could there possibly be? I mean, there’s so much already. Well, SO much more. While I had watched most of his TV shows, Roadrunner showcases very early footage (when he was on the cusp of superstardom). So fascinating to see a young Bourdain (especially given we know how “the story ends”) and you can tell he doesn’t quite believe the journey he is on. The film is peppered with commentary from his family, friends and co-workers who are all, still, visibly sad/ angry/ incredulous about his passing. On the whole, it’s hard and heartbreaking to watch. It’s also hard to watch the film and not look for “signs” of the mental health issues that would be Bourdain’s ultimate downfall. Ultimately, though, I think that any film that shines a light on mental health issues and breaks the stigma of talking about them, especially when the affected person is someone that many probably thought “had it all” is an important work.

Oh, and about that “in his own voice” claim…

From The New Yorker:

To craft the film’s narrative, Neville drew on tens of thousands of hours of video footage and audio archives—and, for three particular lines heard in the film, Neville commissioned a software company to make an A.I.-generated version of Bourdain’s voice.

So, I actually read this before I saw the film – MOST of the film IS actually in his own voice (the sheer amount of footage of his life is incredible) but there are three lines that Neville could not find Bourdain speaking that he wanted to use. One is a few lines from an email – it’s unlikely there would be a recording of Bourdain reading his own email – but the other two lines are unknown (they are lines that Bourdain wrote himself, but of which no recording existed). The fact that Neville didn’t disclose the use of the AI-generated voice before the film came out or during the film drew the anger and curiosity of many critics and viewers. Can you tell the difference? I couldn’t (not an expert but…). Could I figure out the other two places where the voice was AI-generated? No.

There are so many things to consider here, none the least being, did his estate and family approve this, which isn’t entirely clear. Neville claims he had the blessing of the “widow and literary executor” but his ex-wife Ottavia says she was not the one who said Tony would have been cool with that”).  I’m trying not to let this controversy overshadow the fact that this is an extremely well-done film that raises important issues.  And (even AI aside) it *nearly* feels like Bourdain is still with us.

I’m still thinking about how I feel about that AI voice but in the past few days there has been some fabulous writing about the film. Whether you’re a fan or not, you can’t deny that Bourdain brings out the opinions.

The Haunting Afterlife of Anthony Bourdain via The New Yorker.

The Ethics of a Deep Face Anthony Bourdain Voice via The New Yorker.

The Anthony Bourdain doc, Roadrunner can be invasive. Sometimes it’s worse via Vulture.

I thought I knew Anthony Bourdain. “Roadrunner” shows us who he really was via NPR.

AI brought Anthony Bourdain’s voice back to life. Should it have? via NPR.

Roadrunner: The Life, Death and Passion of Anthony Bourdain via Rolling Stone


Have you seen the movie? What did you think?


Disclosure: I received virtual screening passes for myself and my paid newsletter subscribers from Touchwood PR. I was not asked to write about the film and have not been compensated for doing so. This post was not reviewed prior to publication. All opinions my own.


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1 thought on “Summer viewing: Roadrunner”

  1. Weekday mornings are a pretty hectic time for me so **sigh** I was a little late in arriving at the “cinema” and was refused entry as the screening had already commenced 🙁 Sure hope I didn’t preclude another a spot at the screening with my acceptance and non-appearance.

    Your review sure makes me really mad with myself now Mardi for missing it – sounds amazing. Keeping my fingers crossed for it to hit the local cinema sometime in the future.


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