Fragile X sounds like a comedy show title, maybe a superhero movie, quite possibly a heavy metal band. In fact it’s a syndrome, defined by the Fragile X Association of Australia as “the leading inherited cause of intellectual disability and the most common known genetic cause of autism. It is a condition which can have impact on individuals and families in various ways and degrees of severity.”
But in Mission to Lars - a documentary having a special screening for the organisation on Wednesday night at the Orpheum Theatre in Sydney – it’s all of the above: Comedy, hero, heavy metal and last (and yes least) a disability.
Mission to Lars tells the story of Kate and Will Spicer, siblings in the UK who decide to help their brother Tom, a man with Fragile X who lives in a care facility, to fulfil his dream of meeting Metallica drummer Lars Ulrich.
While the old proverb suggests that any journey starts with a single step, these three don’t even achieve that before the problems start, as getting Tom to Lars proves just as, if not more difficult than getting Lars to see Tom. What ensues is an openly subjective account of a truly unique mission, that is incredibly well told, full of immense heart and above all very easy to watch.
In fact the hardest part about watching Mission to Lars is letting yourself laugh at Tom, but have no fear Kate wants you to. “It is not a documentary,” she exalts. “It’s a truly entertaining film with a really extreme dramatic arc and a really amazingly funny central character. All I ever wanted with that film was for people to see through the labels. See through the Fragile X. See through the learning disability. Just see the man, see Tom. And in that respect I think people respond to him as a bit of a hero.”
For Spicer the challenge we see on screen was nothing compared to that of getting it up there.
“Raising the money for the film was a nightmare,” she says. “We went to TV people and they were saying ‘well, if she were Stephen Fry maybe.’” In the way of television politics, this was said to the film’s executive producer, not to the star herself, but as is often the case in documentaries, the star was the executive producer.
As much as TV didn’t want Kate, she and her brother weren’t sure they wanted TV. “We felt very uncomfortable with television,” she recalls. “When it did seem like television might take it, we realised we would be handing over the portrayal and also the management of our brother to people we didn’t know.”
“Then it became apparent we had to make our own film.”
So Kate spent 14 months talking to drunk people in bars who claimed to know Lars, throwing parties to raise the minimum funds required to complete the project and trying to convince Metallica, by any means possible that they were real and they were going to meet them.
The end result was beyond Kate’s dreams. It wasn’t just a “grip and grin back stage” she explains, though it had to be edited for narrative effect. “There was a part of me that just wanted the whole thing to be about the meeting because it was incredibly moving and it went on for about an hour or more, which is unprecedented in many ways.”
That the meeting occurred isn’t really a spoiler though, for more than any almost any film, Mission to Lars is about the journey not the destination. As Kate explains “it’s a story about the evolution of Tom’s confidence.” It is also a journey that any audience will adore.
Mission to Lars is what documentaries should be, an amazing true story, told in an heart-felt and above all entertaining fashion, and if Tom travelled the world to see Lars, you should cross town to laugh at him doing it.
Mission to Lars, Fragile X Association of Australia charity screening. Wednesday 29th August, 6:30pm at Hayden Orpheum Picture Palace Theatre, 380 Military Road, Cremorne, NSW. $20 per ticket. www.orpheum.com.au