“Why are we doing this?
“Because we have to and we can’t get out of this now.”
A documentary can sometimes be a difficult project to pin down for a reviewer. Most documentaries, if we’re honest, have a message for us – something the film-makers want to get across. Something that is apparently important (to the teller) enough not to regail as an imaginary tale.
All documentaries are stories of one kind or another, just as made up films are, but reality is (usually) what separates them. There is artistic licences in many biopics, those true-ish tales acted out by the jesters of today. A documentary purports to be real, for a purpose, of import at least for those that make it for something more than just the mere fleeting dalliance of entertainment.And Mission To Lars is no different in that respect, but compared to other documentaries, it immediately feels contrived. The method by which this partially estranged collection of siblings is introduced is worryingly honest and so morally brutal as to be almost ugly in its creation. Almost as if the makers, a brother and sister, filmmaker and journalist respectively, have locked themselves in a room for a few hours, vowing not to leave until they come out with a project, any project, that will pique the interest of its potential audience. They are not even against roping in their autistic other brother. To begin with, this feels less like love and more about manipulation.
“Tom? Do you want to go to South America?”
And this feeling doesn’t disappear as quickly as the good intentioned might like. Through the very briefest of countdowns to a day that will see all three siblings take a plane to Los Angeles, with all of the potential disasters and surprises an unknown quantity like Tom, the autisitc brother, could provide, we are afforded a view into how reality is biting for the two that are hoping to profit, in the nicest possible way, from this transatlantic adventure to meet a drummer from a heavy metal band.
Ths is Tom’s wish, of course. He wants to meet Lars Ulrich, drummer from probably the biggest metal band on the planet, Metallica. This unassuming, challenged man that has been largely ignored by his brother and sister for more years than he could care to remember is going to benefit from the years of ignorance and guilt that only these two focused and entrepreneurial relatives could provide. No matter how they dress this up, however, it never manages to convince us that this is more than opportunistic throughout. It may have a lovely, seemingly admirable raison d’etre, but the cynics will not see it.
Despite advice to the contrary from those who actually know Tom, unlike the family you would expect to know him best, they don’t keep to a tight schedule, there is no routine, there is no regualr meals. They take him to places that may broaden his horizons, with apparent ambivalence (negligence, maybe?) to his well being as to what effect this exposure will do to him.
Aside from the sermonising, the film itself is interesting, if never gripping. It has a hook; that being the ‘will he won’t he?’ element of whether Tom will actually end up meeting his idol, the titular Lars. Whether you believe the film should exist or not, whether it was right to take Tom on the trip in the first place, or whether the intentions were honorable or not takes second place to the individual satisfaction experienced by the viewer. Did it work? Well, yes it really did. Despite my misgivings about the validity and honesty of the project as a whole, I did smile through the entire last half an hour of the documentary, which for those of you that know me, will know is no mean feat to achieve.
As a moral standpoint, it may not win any awards or even garner much praise. As a documentary, it tells a lovely, true story about one man and his dream, catered to by his seemingly loving family. Worth a watch. Whether you can reconcile yourself to the mixed messages it clearly conveys is something else.