‘Lifemark’ Is Welcome Testament to the Beauty of Adoption

FILM REVIEW: New pro-life movie starring Kirk Cameron is based on a true story.

‘Lifemark’ offers inspiration about the gift of adoption and family life.
‘Lifemark’ offers inspiration about the gift of adoption and family life. (photo: FaithStep Films)

In some ways, the new Kendrick Brothers’ film Lifemark can be viewed as a companion piece to PureFlix’s 2019 drama Unplanned. Both are true, pro-life stories. But while Unplanned focuses on Abby Johnson emerging from the sordid world of the abortion industry, Lifemark is a story about life-affirming adoption.

Lifemark is a feature adaptation of the true story of David Scotton, an 18-year-old high-school senior in New Orleans who is contacted by his birth mother, Melissa. The supportive bridge between the meeting of these two are Scotton’s adopted parents, Jimmy (Kirk Cameron) and Susan (Rebecca Rogers). David and Melissa’s story was previously told in I Lived on Parker Avenue, a 2017 short documentary, which includes footage of the live meeting between David and Melissa. Lifemark builds its narrative impact around that meeting, meticulously recreating the actual reunion down to minute details.

Kirk Cameron anchors the cast, reuniting with the Kendrick Brothers for the first time since his firefighter role in Fireproof, the successful drama from 2008 that helped launch the wider Christian film market in the United States. Alex and Stephen Kendrick co-wrote Lifemark with director Kevin Peeples, who previously teamed with the Kendricks on another life-affirming picture, Like Arrows (2018). Fathom Events is distributing Lifemark in theaters for a weeklong run, Sept. 9-15.

Lifemark is a well-meaning effort, earnest in its storytelling; it approaches its subject matter with obvious respect. Because of this sincerity, it is hard to fault its shortcomings. Its style leaves little room for real conflict. In the main, scenes play out perfunctorily. Resolutions easily surface, and characters are quick to avoid discord. We see this particularly in the film’s central character, played by newcomer Raphael Ruggero). When David learns he cannot compete in wrestling due to an operation, he is devastated, but the teenage crisis is temporary. The tone of the film does not allow for deeper character development beyond superficial angst. But these are problems that have long plagued overtly Christian movies of the last two decades, where the message often supersedes the storyline, veering the movies away from a cinematic experience and more into the realm of a public service announcement (Lifemark’s credits include a resource page with the phone number to Focus on the Family).

Still, while Lifemark is hampered by budget and production shortcomings, it redeems itself with its positive emphasis on adoption and wholesome mood. In spite of its limitations, Lifemark is a welcome testament to the beauty of adoption.

It also employs an ambitious timeline structure, which shows in flashback how David’s teenage parents, particularly his mother, faced the prospect of bringing a new life into the world. In a flashback reminiscent of Unplanned, Melissa is ushered into an abortion facility, a blanket covering her as she cowers from abortion protesters. Ultimately, Melissa chose life, providing Cameron’s Jimmy and Rogers’ Susan a chance to finally become the parents they long wanted to be. For these flashbacks, “de-aging” technology was employed on Cameron and Rogers. It works for the most part, allowing the performers the rare occasion to show range in playing their characters in different ages. Cameron, a fixture in the faith-based-films milieu, is always a reliable presence on screen and also serves as one of Lifemark’s executive producers.

A missed opportunity to deepen conflict is in the subplot of the relationship between Melissa and David’s biological father, Brian. When the adult Brian, played by Lowery Brown, admits to his wife he fathered a son as a young adult, Brown brings a gravitas to the role that is sorely needed throughout the rest of the film. As it is conveyed on screen, Brian’s role comes across as an afterthought, and his clear aching over his past actions and behavior remains undeveloped.

Lifemark will likely find a supportive audience within moviegoers seeking affirming, faith-based fare.