(Image courtesy of Film Buff and Lisa Trifone)

(Image courtesy of Film Buff and Lisa Trifone)


On its surface, the setting of 42 Grams is nearly unapproachable.  Over ninety percent of you reading this review (myself included) probably do not frequent dining establishments that cost over $200 a seat.  We’re the folks that can’t pronounce or define the names of the ingredients on those pristine plates, let alone know what they taste like to create such an apparently moving and worthwhile experience.  Empathetic connection to such a lofty socioeconomic niche should match the narrow exclusivity of the select clientele.  

Through 42 Grams, documentary filmmaker Jack C. Newell muddles away the self-importance and crafts his own dish laced with affinity and rapport.  Following the trials and tribulations of gifted Chicago chef Jake Bickelhaupt and his wife Alexa, Newell’s film looks beyond the culinary decadence to reveal a core essence of ambition as relatable as any other version of the American Dream.  The captive fascination swelling from that gathers attention and an audience where it normally would not.  42 Grams plays the Gene Siskel Film Center in downtown Chicago on January 27, 28, 31, and February 1 before hitting the festival circuit this spring.

In 2014, Jake and Alexa were running an underground invitation-only dining experience named Sous Rising out of their Uptown neighborhood home.  Showcasing Jake’s talent sharpened by experience at Michelin-rated restaurants like Alinea, Schwa, and Charlie Trotter’s, Sous Rising brought world-class dining to an intimate and casual setting, favoring good company paired with even better non-conformist food.  Supported by his wife serving as front-of-house during the evenings after her own full-time job, Jake took food as his passion and the way to articulate his feelings as an artist.

Paced by the growing progress of wine cork mural on a restaurant wall, the documentary chronicles Jake and Alexa’s development of their first brick-and-mortar restaurant concept after purchasing a defunct Chester’s Chicken joint on the ground floor of their residence.  Named 42 Grams after the combined mythical weight of their two souls, a dream seeks to become reality.  The camera invades the active process inside and outside of the kitchen as the couple puts their lives on hold to take enormous personal, financial, and creative risks.  

On film, every dish and every detail becomes meticulous in purpose and expressive with courage.  The filmmaking team behind 42 Grams draws out charisma while still showcasing the edible elegance.  From the first frames, Nick Takenobu Ogawa’s moody musical score is inescapable and a pristine tone-setter for the domestic atmosphere captured by Zach Scheitlin on sound.  The combination of Patrick Warren’s intimate camerawork and playful use of speed give this documentary uncommon pacing.

The highest quality is the film’s focus to bear witness championed by director Jack C. Newell.  Nearly every portion of 42 Grams, edited leanly by David Burkhart, observes events as they transpired in their moments.  Thanks to the busy-body of Bickelhaupt, any on-camera reflection conversations happen continuously in the operating workplace, not hours later in some static and scripted talking-head interview setup.  True to form, that effect created by Newell’s assembled journey is kinetic and engrossing as a documentary.  

LESSON #1: FINDING GENUINENESS AMONG THE ELITE-- Within the walls of 42 Grams, the cooking and the consumer landscape is not a normal plane of existence, but the corporeal qualities are genuine through and through.  42 Grams captures this lesson brilliantly, normalizing the documentary subject to an attainable level to show a husband trying to contain his madness and vices and a wife who recognizes the brilliance to support him, successes, flaws, and all.

LESSON #2: THE INTENT OF AN ARTIST-- Beyond the professional practice, Jake Bickelhaupt is an artist with ingenuity and ambition bursting to be expressed.  Each artist may be unique, but the makeups of their characters are quite similar.  Looking beyond the 42 Grams and Sous Rising menu prices, you will see a complicated and aggressive man, not unlike others found in different professions.  Jake’s chosen passion and medium is food, and his dreams to create are inexhaustible.  

LESSON #3: PERSONAL QUESTS OF VALIDATION-- A poignant line of questioning creeps into your thoughts while watching 42 Grams if indeed this restaurant scene is above your pay grade.  Why do all this?  What is the value of this endeavor?  The answer is a professional honing his craft for validation.  Newell employs a quote by legendary French chef Auguste Escoffier that nails this:

“Cooking is a science and an art, and the man who puts all his heart into satisfying his fellow men deserves consideration.”

Every career has ladder towards some form of a brass ring.  For school teachers like myself, it’s the Golden Apple.  For Jake, it’s a Michelin rating.  No first-year restaurant has ever been awarded two stars, and that’s the respect and acknowledgment he’s gunning for and the value he sees of himself.