42 Grams

Movie review by
Barbara Shulgasser-Parker, Common Sense Media
42 Grams Movie Poster Image
Fascinating portrait of a young chef has some cursing.
  • NR
  • 2017
  • 82 minutes

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Positive Messages

Hard work can help you reach certain professional goals, but you may lose everything else that matters in that narrow pursuit. Mistakes are OK if you learn from them. There's satisfaction in working hard to fulfill a goal. Employees should be respectful and take pride in their work.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Jake is an arrogant perfectionist who sets high standards for himself and rudely demands as much from those who work with him. He's both inspirational and difficult to work with. His wife and partner laments his short temper but supports him. He's a perpetual learner who wants to improve the experience for those patrons who support fine dining. A young, irresponsible employee walks out of work one day because he "didn't feel appreciated."


Jake loses his temper with his underlings. Three of Jake and his wife's four parents die during the operation of their restaurant.


"F--k," "s--t," "ass," and "suck."


Jake speaks of the importance of cooking every meal in his restaurant himself. He reasons that when people pay $185 for a dinner, it should be cooked by the chef who created the dish, not someone who works in the kitchen and learned to do the recipe.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

A person speaks of going to AA to curtail his excessive drinking. Adults drink alcohol.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that 42 Grams is a documentary about a chef/food artist who started off running an illegal restaurant out of his home before becoming a culinary star. Jake Bickelhaupt has little patience for anything less than the best, so he lets loose with choice language, including "f--k" and "s--t" when he's displeased. But it's that combination of perfectionism, mania, and impatience that makes him both a fascinating and frustrating protagonist of this story about his Chicago restaurant that shares the film's title. Alcoholism is mentioned and adults drink champagne, beer, and liquor. His wife's mother needs hospice care, and three of Jake and and his wife's four parents die during the operation of their restaurant.

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What's the story?

In 42 GRAMS, director Jack C. Newell (Open Tables) follows Jake Bickelhaupt, a talented young chef who feels he's getting nowhere after a decade toiling in the rich Chicago culinary scene. After years of cooking under a great chef at Charlie Trotter's, one of Chicago's great restaurants, Jake leaves and quickly realizes food is still his passion. With the support and help of his wife, Alexa Welsh, who works her own full-time job, they start an "underground" restaurant (that is, unlicensed), serving 15 strangers superb cuisine every weekend right in their cramped home. (A Cuisinart sits on the desk.) They call their enterprise Sous Rising ("sous" means "under" in French, as in sous chef, the role he achieved at other restaurants). "Jake needs an outlet for his food creativity," says his wise and indulgent wife, Alexa. Their success and Jake's passion inspire them to open an actual restaurant. They rent the space at the ground floor of their apartment building and transform a fast-food chicken joint into an 18-seat shrine to fine dining and a representation of Jake and Alexa's deepest selves, reflected in a name that riffs on the supposed weight of two souls. Newell captures the research and development phase of the menu creation, recording Jake's food combination experiments (cultured barley porridge, fried enoki mushroom straw). The work is long, detail-oriented, and physically grueling. Jake says he feels like a "prisoner" of his own restaurant. We watch a nervous opening night in 2014, where Jake barks at his staff in the open kitchen and shakes his head at what he perceives to be the laziness and incompetence of his small staff. Jake's to-do list reflects high aspirations, including winning coveted Michelin Guide stars. To achieve a star within the first year of a restaurant's operation is nearly unheard of, yet Jake fully expects, hopes, and yearns to win two, even though at the time, only two restaurants in Chicago had two stars. The camera captures their nail-biting wait to hear if the restaurant has won. Soon after that, the restaurant enjoys another two years of lauded operation. Jake and Alexa -- who endured many stresses as they opened the restaurant, including alcoholism, staff turnover, and the loss of three of their four parents -- eventually divorce. The restaurant closes a few months later. 

Is it any good?

This documentary is a fascinating look at a chef's creative process and the grit, grueling hard work, and determination necessary to create a restaurant that reflects an artist's culinary sensibility. This is a rarefied world closed to all but those who can afford such pricey fare, and the issue of Jake's admitted alcohol problem is glossed over perhaps a bit too tidily. But more germane is the fact that director Newell uses jump cuts, side-by-side screens, sped-up timing, and close camera work to aptly give us a sampling of the passionate and seemingly delicious work Jake does. It's as if close-ups are meant to add the missing ingredient cinema can never capture, a hint of how these dishes actually taste. His cinematic compositions mimic and represent the bold, self-conscious, colorful, sculptural combinations Jake arranges on raku pottery plates and in wooden amoeba-shaped bowls.

And neither Jake nor the director prettify Jake's flawed character. By the time the divorce is announced in elegant typeface at the end of 42 Grams, no close viewer will be surprised that Jake and Alexa couldn't make their marriage work. In fact, beneath the celebration of Jake's creativity, there's an unstated sense throughout of impending doom, that Jake's explosive temper will do irreparable harm to himself or others, or that positive feedback might ruin him rather than make him strive to be better. In all, a viewer is left sympathetically wondering what happens next to Jake and Alexa.  


Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about perfectionism in 42 Grams. Can any of us be perfect? If not, is it OK to try to be the best we can be? If we're willing to work as hard as we can, is it fair to be impatient and cross with those who don't want to work as hard? Why or why not?

  • Jake lauds the great chef who trained him, but as he loses his temper with people working under him, he recalls how badly his mentor actually treated him. Do you think people who are treated badly are likely to treat others badly?

  • Jake sees food as a channel for his creativity and a way for him to give to and connect with people. What are some other areas outside of the usual activities categorized as art that people can express creativity? Business? Inventing? Athletics? Can you think of more?

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