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Film Review - 86ED: A Sisyphean Redemption Story

Former 42 Grams chef Jacob Bickelhaupt grapples with the aftermath of a criminal charge of battery on his ex-wife, restaurant GM, Alexa Welsh in this deeply personal documentary exploring Bickelhaupt’s redemption. After the charge occurred, 42 Grams shut down for good, and Bickelhaupt left Chicago and sought healing.

Director J.J. Hendricks employs an unexpected structure for this documentary. The majority of the film looks at where Jacob is in life now - fairly happy all things considered with his wife, Nadia. Bickelhaupt and Nadia live in Colorado, they run an underground restaurant together called Konro, they rescue puppies, they celebrate Bickelhaupt’s ongoing sobriety, they seem altogether - well - together.

Underneath the surface of such happiness, Hendricks explores the lasting trauma that Bickelhaupt, Nadia, and their friends and family face on a daily basis years after the battery charge went public. Bickelhaupt and Nadia discuss all the bridges burned in painful detail.

Hendricks delays Bickelhaupt’s unedited confession recollecting the night of the domestic violence to the third act of the film. For anyone unfamiliar with the 42 Grams incident, this could be frustrating, but perhaps it also highlights something about human nature.

Throughout the documentary, viewers are offered social media posts from random individuals that offer vitriolic opinions on Bickelhaupt. With only the word of Nadia for a good portion of the film, and with such a sensitive topic like domestic abuse, it may seem natural to side with the social media users’ backlash. Perhaps the unique structure Hendricks employed allows viewers to examine that impulse. It is so easy in today’s social media saturated world to express opinions before knowing all the information. It speaks to the larger question of the documentary: is cancel culture healthy?

The phrase “cancel culture” itself is loaded with preconceived notions. At no point does this documentary explicitly say if such a thing is good or bad. Rather it challenges the viewer to think about the impact their voice can have.

Bickelhaupt’s confession feels brave and painfully human. It would likely have an even greater impact if Hendricks were able to obtain an interview or comment from the victim, Alexa, or an informed person from Alexa’s side of the story. By the end of the film, we are only offered Bickelhaupt’s side. Though Bickelhaupt’s confession felt honest and unfiltered, it doesn’t inherently make up for lacking the other side of the story. Considering the situation, however, such an interview may not have been possible.

86ED offers a glimmer of hope for anyone who may be suffering with addiction. Bickelhaupt admits that his severe alcoholism primarily contributed to the awful night. It is difficult to say whether the public will ever be on board with Bickelhaupt’s redemption. Like Sisyphus, Bickelhaupt may just have to keep pushing forward against the weight with his family and friends to help shoulder the burden. Hopefully both he and Alexa can achieve a sense of inner peace as time goes on.

86ED won Best Picture at FilmCon Awards in September 2021.

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