out of Five
Running time: 74
Warm hearted and ultimately moving documentary that combines gentle humour, an engaging central quest and some thought provoking observations on learning disability.
What's it all about?
Co-directed by James Moore and William Spicer, Mission to Lars centres on three members of the Spicer family: journalist Kate, filmmaker William and their middle brother Tom, who has a form of severe autism known as Fragile X syndrome. Feeling like they have never really bonded with their brother, Kate and Will decide to help Tom achieve his long held, repeatedly expressed (“Wanna meet Lars. Wanna meet Lars”) dream of meeting Metallica drummer Lars Ulrich, so they arrange to fly to Los Angeles and hire a motorhome in order to follow Metallica around on tour.
However, aspects of Tom's autism involve a need for order and routine, as well as increased anxiety in unpredictable social situations and Kate and Will soon realise that helping Tom achieve his dream will present a huge challenge for all three of them. Along the way, they pay a visit to Fragile X expert Randi Hagerman and receive invaluable help and advice from Tom's step-mother Jane.
Kate is a lively and likeable presence on screen (Will is seen less often, as he's frequently behind the camera) and their quest is genuinely engaging, even though we share their parents' anxiety that, having not spent much time with Tom over the years, they may be biting off more than they can chew. The full reality sinks in when they ask each family member for things they should remember about Tom's condition and are presented with a lengthy, seemingly never-ending list.
Moore and Spicer direct with an intimate, handheld style that relies on closely following Kate and Tom and frequent, impromptu to-camera interviews with Kate. This allows for some genuinely moving observations, as Kate and Will are forced to examine their own motives for what they're doing and realise that far from helping Tom, they are actually causing him greater pain and difficulty by removing him from his comfortable daily routine; they also belatedly realise that having established this level of personal contact with their brother, none of them can go back to the way things were before.
Despite some fraught moments of tension involving Tom even setting off on the trip in the first place (as well as the fact that he refuses to attend the first concert), there's never any real doubt which way this is going and the final twenty minutes of the film are hugely uplifting. Frankly, after this film, everybody
will want to meet Lars.
Mission to Lars is a well made, entertaining and emotionally engaging documentary that's well worth seeking out, not least because all profits from the film are going to charity. Highly recommended.