By John Hanlon
Based on a true story, the new film Lifemark celebrates adoption and shows how one child’s life changed when his birth parents decided they weren’t ready to raise a child. Written and directed by Kevin Peeples, the filmmakers here have a certain perspective but instead of pushing it at the expense of the story, they instead focus their attention on the life of their main character and the choices he faces as a young adult.
Produced by Alex and Stephen Kendrick (Fireproof, Overcomer and War Room), the drama focuses on eighteen-year-old David Colton (Raphael Ruggero). The story begins slowly, introducing David as a high school student who loves wrestling and spending time with his best friend Nate (Justin Sterner). After a match, David faces some rough health news. After that plotline is resolved, the story shifts focus when David’s birth mother reaches out to him. She wants to meet him.
Despite his hesitance about discussing his adoption, David starts mulling over his past and even decides to speak out about it at school. David eventually has to decide if and how he wants to invite his birth parents into his life.
The characters here, especially David’s adoptive parents Jimmy (Kirk Cameron) and Susan (Rebecca Rogers), speak openly about their Christian faith and the feature has an undeniable pro-faith message. “God has something special for you, David,” Jimmy reassures his son early on. However, the story’s religious message never makes it feel like faith reduces a person’s hardship or suffering. In fact, the film shows the heartbreaks that Jimmy and Susan faced along the way as they tried to build a family.
The feature also doesn’t denigrate any of its main characters, pitting some characters against others. Instead, there’s a sensitivity here towards all of the parties involved. Colton’s birth mother Melissa (Dawn Long) and his birth father Brian (Lowrey Brown) are both presented as empathetic individuals who made the decision that they thought was best for them and their son. Even with limited scenes here, the screenplay shows who they are and who they once were (with flashbacks showing them as scared teenagers trying to decide what they do with their unborn child).
The true standout of the story though is Raphael Ruggero, who plays the main character. Much of the film rests on his shoulders and he does a remarkable job in the lead role. In the span of two hours, the character faces a variety of big life decisions and Ruggero manages to present him as a responsible adult who has the carefree spirit of a teenager willing to laugh at himself. One standout scene, for instance, wonderfully shows Nate wanting David to become emotional about his adoption (for a documentary). Instead of leaning into tears, the easygoing David uses the opportunity to crack some jokes.
There’s a playfulness here that keeps the film from becoming overtly dramatic and really shows how a teenager might really react to his life changing so dramatically in such a short period.
Although the opening act doesn’t fully fit in with the rest of the story (David’s health issues never seem to fit in here), the story works remarkably well once it starts focusing in on David’s adoption. Even though the screenplay has emotional moments (including a tough sequence in its final act), the story makes way for a few great comedic moments and lets the characters breath and grow during the journey.
Because the story features a number of serious topics here (including adoption, abortion and tragedy), it could’ve easily fallen off the rails or settled for simple characters or easy solutions. However, director Kevin Peeples manages to tell it with a grace and care that makes it really stand out.
Lifemark is in theaters nationwide.
John Hanlon is a film and television critic. This article was published here with his permission. All rights reserved.