Tom is 40, and has lived in the same care home for over 20 years. He has Fragile X Syndrome, a kind of ‘autism with bells on,’ as his sister Kate puts it. His life in the pleasant country surroundings of Bystock Court is peaceful and routine, which may seem somewhat at odds with Tom’s number one passion – heavy metal. After being introduced to the arena-filling US band Metallica years previously, Tom soon became a devotee – and dreamt of meeting his hero, drummer Lars Ulrich. Mission To Lars is the story of how his two siblings schemed, stressed, and strived to make that happen.
One part road movie, one part disability doc and one part family drama, Mission To Lars follows the three siblings (Tom, journalist Kate and filmmaker Will) as they journey from the familiar grounds of Bystock to the United States, following Metallica from Las Vegas to Anaheim on their World Magnetic Tour. But while the California rockers loom large throughout the film, at its heart – and there is a lot of heart – Mission To Lars is the story of a family that has drifted apart and the joys and struggles of trying to reconnect.
A road movie lives or dies on whether the audience are invested in the characters they have been roped into joining on their journey. And like all the best, the dysfunctional Spicer family are impossible not to root for as they attempt the improbable in order to rebuild relationships that had grown ever more distant. Tom’s journey to meet Lars is his siblings’ journey to truly understand their brother, and the audience learns with them as they come to understand the difficulties Tom faces and how their own behaviour can inflame or assuage his anxiety. And that is what makes the more educational aspects of the film so compelling – listening to a professor talk about Fragile X is not just some dusty old academic throwing out facts to the audience, it is giving us vital information about a character we have already warmed to, information that will be crucial for the central relationship in which we cannot help but be invested.
The film doesn’t shy away from how Tom’s disability can be frustrating for those around him (Kate and Will get an early taste of the challenge they’ve taken on when Tom refuses to leave the residential home), but it’s clear from the start that the frustration stems from love: his siblings stress because they are unsure if their actions are really going to make Tom happy, or just ‘impose misery’ upon him. It becomes clear as their journey progresses that the biggest challenge isn’t Tom’s disability, but the way they respond to it.
There are hiccups, clashes and refused high-fives, but all of this makes the cathartic final meeting (come on, of course they meet him) all the more satisfying. Many a million-dollar blockbuster would dream of the emotional climax Mission To Lars achieves with the sight of a middle-aged Danish man walking into a room. Only weeks earlier Kate had downheartedly told the audience that getting Tom to see Lars ‘would be a miracle,’ and as we see Tom’s joy as he interacts with his hero, it really does feel like a miracle after all.
Mission to Lars is available now on DVD and Blu-Ray.