Should I Watch..? Mission To Lars
What's the big deal?
Mission To Lars is a documentary film released in 2012 and is co-directed by James Moore and William Spicer. The film features a subject close to Will's heart - his brother Tom - and the everyday battle he faces in order to meet his hero, Metallica drummer Lars Ulrich. Although Lars is the movie's centre, the film actually revolves more around the topic of mental illness and its effect on not just those who suffer directly but their friends and family around them. It features a collection of footage shot on handheld cameras that follow Will, Tom and their sister Kate on their quest to fulfil Tom's dream. Initially conceived as a television programme, it was turned down by every producer they approached and in the end and after much fund-raising, they decided to shoot the film themselves independently.
What's it about?
Kate Spicer is a journalist based in London and her younger brother William is a film maker. Their middle brother is Tom and Tom has lived in a care home in Devon for 22 years. He suffers from a condition called Fragile X Syndrome, a form of autism which limits intellectual development among other things. Tom likes routine, order and repetition and he happily works away at the care home making animal bedding out of old newspapers. He is also a massive fan of Metallica and their drummer in particular, Lars Ulrich.
Spurred on by a desire to reconnect with Tom, Kate and Will propose a roadtrip with their brother to see Metallica and use their media connections to arrange a meeting between Tom and Lars - a meeting that Tom has dreamed of for many years. But such a task is no easy undertaking - Metallica are the biggest metal band on Earth and one does not simply walk up to Lars and shake his hand. Then there's Tom condition to take into account - getting Tom to do anything out of the ordinary is a huge undertaking in and of itself. Lastly, there is Kate and Will themselves who quickly discover that their attempts to take care of Tom are woefully short of what they should be...
Jasmin St. Claire
James Moore & William Spicer
Release Date (UK)
8th June, 2012
Biography, Documentary, Adventure
What's to like?
The film is a raw and painful look at the impact mental health has on people and families - in fact, it sometimes feels as though we're watching uncomfortable home movies that were edited out and hidden away. The distance between Kate and Will and their brother is all too apparent, to the extent that you get the feeling that poor Tom is being exploited. But the truth is more fascinating as the three of them follow Metallica through the US during their World Magnetic tour in 2009. Tom becomes the absolute focal point of the film and whether he is aware of that fact or not, he loves every minute of it. His personality and unique quirks allow him to become ever more lovable as the film rumbles on while the thawing of Kate and Will's relationship to him makes pleasing viewing.
There is also an unexpected element of tension. Is the mission too great? Would Lars even want to meet Tom and how would he react when he does? Even Tom appears to change his mind as he get ever closer to his dream so you're never entirely sure if the mission is a success. There just seem to be so many obstacles that hadn't been taken into account like Tom's hypersensitive hearing, making a noisy Metallica gig almost an impossibility for someone like Tom.
- Mission To Lars has now been awarded charity status, having raised £25'000 for Mencap. There are plans in place for a annual 'Mencap mission' to allow other people with learning difficulties achieve their dreams.
- The film causing numerous fights between Kate & Will which reflected on Tom's mood. But quitting wasn't an option: Kate described the film as "a monster that had to be fed."
- Since the film, Tom has become more independent and has visited London, used a mobile phone and takes bus trips unsupervised. He is also much closer to Kate and Will.
What's not to like?
Metallica fans themselves will be disappointed that the band aren't featured more in the film although Lars does make an appearance eventually. There are snippets of concert footage dropped in here and there but really, the film concentrates on Tom and the unfathomable world he finds himself in. The documentary also feels a bit 'Hollywood' as everything boils down to their last chance to meet Lars at a concert in California whilst before the final reel, the film does feel slow and filled with lots of pretty shots of their rented RV trundling through rural America.
There is also a sense that the off-screen traumas - the rows between Kate and Will as well as their separated parents who aren't entirely keen on the mission - were edited out so completely that the film is left with a lovely sugar-coated feel. Even Lars comes across as a genuinely nice guy without a hint of being a rock-star diva, the way you imagine Lenny Kravitz might. I suspect that a little more honesty wouldn't have gone amiss but who's to say? The film is a worthy attempt at broadening horizons, educating viewers about life with learning difficulties and the efforts made by Kate and Will to reconnect and compensate for not being there for Tom for all those years.
Should I watch it?
Harsh critics might describe it as a noisy home movie but Mission To Lars is much more than that - it's an enlightening and reflective look at issues which still carry a lot of stigma about them and aren't discussed openly enough. Come the finale, you'll be cheering for Tom and willing him to succeed and certainly wanting to see things come good in the end. Here's hoping that the film will open more than just eyes and minds - it's a reminder that even the most vunerable members of our society shouldn't be left alone and that just maybe, they have something to offer us after all.
Great For: raising awareness of mental health and learning disabilities, showing Metallica in a very different light, carers
Not So Great For: Metallica fans wanting more tunes
What else should I watch?
Feeling short-changed, Metallica fans? Don't worry - there are other films worth watching if you can find them. They even have their own documentary called Metallica: Some Kind Of Monster which follows the band during their troubled time making the St. Anger album. Alternatively, there are always concert movies - Cunning Stunts and Metallica: Through The Never, which even offers a surreal narrative to proceedings amidst the angry, loud rock numbers.
Considering that more than 1.5 million people in the UK have learning difficulties, there are precious few films that look at the issue. Occasionally, one does get noticed - the likes of Rain Man, Precious and Extremely Loud And Incredibly Close will sometimes appear but these are few and far between. It is shocking that more films like Mission To Lars aren't given more prominence - perhaps studios should be more willing to invest in supposedly risky ventures like this?
© 2015 Benjamin Cox