mission_to_lars_3Year: 2012 (2015 US release)
Director: James Moore, William Spicer
Writer(s): N/A
Region of Origin: UK
Rating: Unrated
Digital, Color, 74 mins

Synopsis: Two siblings unite to help their autistic brother meet his idol, Lars Ulrich of Metallica. (Source)

The bond between artist and fan is a sacred one, intangible, inexplicable, and irreplaceable. It’s this singular relationship that lies at the core of Mission to Lars, yet only scratches the surface of what this unique documentary has to offer. Aside from being an uplifting journey about one man’s journey to meet rock god Lars Ulrich, it’s primarily an endearing examination of familial disfunction, mental disability and the compassion that binds us all together. Needles to say, siblings Kate & William Spicer (along with director James Moore) have created one of the year’s best documentaries, endlessly fascinating and entertaining at every turn, yet with a socially urgent responsibility that will take hold of your heart and not let go. Whether you’re a fan of the Metallica or just looking for something different, Mission to Lars is bound to be a surprise, winning you over with its charm and a clear reminder of the how music and love are stronger than fear.

Tom Spicer lives with a condition called Fragile X, a genetic syndrome stemming from a form of autism. He lives in a care home in London and is a giant Metallica fan with hopes of one day meeting his idol, drummer Lars Ulrich. Enter his brother and sister, Kate and William, a journalist and filmmaker (respectively) who are somewhat estranged from their brother Tom. Seeing a chance to reconnect with their brother, the two offer to pool their resources together, proposing a trip across the ocean to a string of Metallica concerts. Three nights, three chances to meet Lars, and all they have to do is convince Tom to come with. It’s easier said than done, due to Tom’s disability, which isn’t conducive to the chaos and uncertainty of such an undertaking. As the three travel across the U.S., they learn more about each other as Tom confronts his fears.

mission_to_lars_1Frankly, the film is flat-out an exciting blend of drama and excitement: a road trip with multiple obstacles, a family at a crossroads and the prospect of meeting one of heavy metal’s most important figures. Smartly, it’s the humanity that carries the film and makes us care. While the idea of meeting Lars is in every scene, the Spicers focus the film as an intimate family portrait, brimming with universal themes, high personal stakes and an eye-opening journey of what it’s like to live with Tom’s condition (both from an internal and external perspective). Told without any real frills but with plenty of heart, the film shows us that, despite our social abilities/disabilities, we’re all the same underneath, each carrying the internal weight of our own singular struggles. Pitstops to Yosemite and Fragile X specialist Randi Hagerman yield moments of pause which allow us to reflect away from the pursuit and towards Tom’s inner workings, and the entire thing culminates into a cheer-inducing finale. With the film cleverly less about the end goal but about the journey, there’s so much to love, including a winning quality of unpredictability.

As a lifelong fan of metal and Metallica, it’s great to see a film that not only combats the stigma that metalheads are dull but also lays to rest the myth that this type of music is nothing more than thunderous noise and blunt force theatrics. In reality, the metal scene is a community, offering an escape and a way to make sense of things, and it’s that respite that the film captures from an outside perspective, enriching Tom and his family’s life and helping them to bond in a way not previously possible. Mission to Lars is a wonderful story about overcoming adversity and petty differences, all while shedding a light on the tenderness that’s innately deep within all of us.

SG