Mission to Lars is a British made documentary by journalist Kate Spicer and her brother Will Spicer, a filmmaker and director. Their brother, Tom, has a complex learning disability, Fragile X syndrome, a form of severe autism. In an attempt to reconnect with Tom, Kate and Will set out on a mission to arrange a meeting between Tom and his hero, Lars Ulrich; the drummer from heavy metal rock band Metallica.
Some British readers might recognise Kate from some documentaries aired on terrestrial channels, particularly focusing around body image and women (‘Superskinny Me: The race to size double zero’, ‘The Model, The Poster and 3000 women’ and ‘Super Botox Me’). She tends to be involved with really high quality work, if a little sensationalist. I was pleased to see she toned it down slightly with Mission to Lars. The beginning seems to indicate that despite extensive focus on Tom, the film is really going to be about Kate’s guilt and attempt to reunite with her neglected brother, in a really self-indulgent martyr way. And I have to admit, because of that, I nearly turned the film off. But, I stayed with it, and I’m really pleased that I did. The meeting with Metallica only really acts as a backdrop to Kate’s reconnection with her brother, and the guilt from the beginning of the film, becomes uncomfortably apparent throughout, rather than wrongly assumed, self-indulgence.
It also becomes an exploration of Tom’s behaviour. A learning curve for his brother and sister, who don’t necessarily understand some of the quirks of his learning difficulty, such as time keeping, ‘If you say you’re going to be there for 12, you need to be there at 12’. And actually, I really liked the portrayal of Tom, nothing felt invasive or exploited. It was filmed very simplistically and authentically. Nothing felt forced or like an interrogation, like some documentaries about learning difficulties tend to do under the guise of ‘learning more about the condition’.
Some moments were uncomfortable, like for example, when Tom seems reluctant to go to the Metallica concert because I think he feels like he’s been forced into doing something he doesn’t actually want to do. But actually, rather than being deliberately uncomfortable, it’s shown as Tom’s character, very unsure, very timid, unable to assert his emotions. And it is moments like this that turn Mission to Lars into an observational documentary. We’ve seen already how much Tom would love to meet his idol Lars, despite this he still is apprehensive. Whilst many of us would not give it a second thought about meeting our idols, it shows how much we take for granted. A learning difficulty isn’t always managed, it isn’t always smooth and actually sometimes makes life very difficult for those close. You can spend all your time and money trying to achieve something, but actually if that person doesn’t want to, but doesn’t necessarily have the capacity to understand the implication of that, then you’re left in a bit of an awkward situation. Mission to Lars re-establishes a portrayal of disability in a positive way. So much focus is now on ability to achieve, how disability doesn’t affect lifestyle which is positive, but it’s easy to forget how difficult it is both living with a learning difficulty and managing caring for someone who has a learning difficulty.
The finale does seem however slightly detached from the first part of the film. It sees a return to sensationalist filmmaking, but actually, it remains very heart warming. Tom eventually meets Lars, and the focus remains on these two and not Kate and her reactionary experience. And the home-coming montage scene is really lovely, the other residents of the care facility where Tom lives tell the audience about their heroes.
Mission to Lars, isn’t really about Tom, nor Kate, nor Metallica or even about autism and all its quirks. It’s about managing relationships, doing meaningful things with each other, reconnecting even with boundaries in the way, the simple, nice things in life, even if it has a heavy rock soundtrack… I’d thoroughly recommend Mission to Lars, it’s a delightfully inspiring little film, which will leave you smiling.