In the particulars of a family quest film, viewers should see the universal. But in William Spicer and James Moore’s documentary Mission to Lars, we instead get a whole lot of the specifics.
William and his sister Kate’s older brother, Tom, has Fragile X syndrome, a condition similar to autism that renders him at once remarkably capable — he can work, cook, and clean largely on his own — yet bound to habits that stave off an intense fear of the unknown. His chief joy is an obsession with Metallica, especially drummer Lars Ulrich. Tom wants for little; he lives at a comfortable group home in the English countryside, but he really, really aches to “meet Lars.” William and Kate, feeling that adulthood has estranged them from their elder sibling, decide to fulfill Tom’s desire, and plan a trip to the western U.S., hoping to catch the drummer at the end of a tour.
Attending huge rock concerts with a person who relies on familiarity and order, it turns out, proves a far bigger challenge than meeting a famous heavy-metal drummer. The homespun film closely follows Tom and the mild dysfunctions of the Spicer family, but makes only middling efforts to teach us about Fragile X. It says even less about Metallica: If not for the surprising fact that a man with intensely sensitive hearing loves a blaring rock band, Lars could be replaced as a goal here by, say, Billy Joel.
But the biggest frustration is that the film’s abrupt ending fails to show whether Kate and William really did rebuild their relationship with Tom on the Ulrich quest, and, either way, what that outcome means for the rest of us.
Mission to Lars
Directed by William Spicer and James Moore
Opens September 25
Available on demand, Cinema Village
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on September 22, 2015