The newly-refurbished Gene Siskel Film Center (which was closed during December while new seats and carpeting were installed) has a new documentary series kicking off on Friday, January 5, and running through Thursday, February 1, called Stranger Than Fiction. The series, featuring the local premieres of eight new films, is ambitiously international in scope—among the countries represented are Israel, Japan, Mexico and Qatar—but Chicagoans will be particularly interested in Jack C. Newell’s locally-made 42 Grams. This fascinating documentary tells the behind-the-scenes story of how two-star Michelin chef Jake Bickelhaupt transitioned from running an underground supper club out of his own apartment to founding the highly acclaimed but short-lived Uptown restaurant that provides the film with its title. It's a perfect match between filmmaker and subject matter as Newell, program director of the Harold Ramis Film School, previously made the improv-comedy Open Tables, which was also set amid Chicago's fine-dining milieu.
What makes 42 Grams such a compelling watch is the way Bickelhaupt, a culinary genius from a rural, working-class Wisconsin background, comes across as such an electrifying character—at once passionate, intense and occasionally ornery. Newell maintains an admirably objective directorial eye throughout, trusting viewers to decide for themselves what to make of Bickelhaupt’s abrasive manner, which precipitates a revolving door of employees, and to what extent his unconventional style of restaurant management is justified by his pursuit of perfection. In fact, at a fleet 80 minutes, 42 Grams is such a briskly edited and entertaining ride that viewers aren’t likely to start reflecting on its more profound themes until a surprising closing-title crawl hints at what the film’s true subject has been all along: the thorny intersection of professional ambition and personal relationships.
More information about 42 Grams and the entire Stranger Than Fiction lineup can be found on the Siskel Center's website.