Nothing much happens in the new Showtime film "Cavedweller" (premiering Sunday night), either in the way of narrative event or character development -- it starts with a death and ends with one, but they are not central to the tale, such as it is. Its virtues, in a strange way, lie mainly in what it doesn't do, or try to do. Though it toys with themes of "redemption" and "forgiveness" -- awful, overused words, those, dramatically speaking -- it soft pedals them in favor of quiet portraiture.
Based on a novel by Dorothy Allison and directed by Lisa Cholodenko ("High Art," "Laurel Canyon"), it concerns Delia (Kyra Sedgwick), who, upon the accidental death of her rock singer boyfriend (real-life husband Kevin Bacon, briefly living his real-life dream), hauls their properly resentful daughter (Regan Arnold) from L.A. to her old hometown in Georgia. Years ago she had abandoned two baby daughters and an abusive husband (Aidan Quinn), causing a local scandal, but Delia is so convinced of the rightness of her move that she cannot conceive that other people might think differently of it. The story cheats slightly in her favor -- it's up to everyone else to realize that none of what's happened is really her fault.
In any case, she strikes a bargain with her husband, a cancer-ridden shell of his formerly abusive self, to care for him while he dies, in return for custody of their girls. Daughter Amanda (Vanessa Zima) is all about the avenging Jesus, while Dede (April Mullen) likes to ride in trucks with boys.
Sedgwick, who is also the executive producer, dominates the film, but not to the point of fatal imbalance. Sherilyn Fenn does a nice turn as a car-fixing, cigarette-smoking old friend, and Jill Scott, the singer, handles herself well as Delia's former bandmate and best friend, managing to neutralize most of the "wise, large black woman" aspects the role carries with it. It's always nice to see Quinn. And the three girls are all wonderful, each playing a variation on an attitude of cautious regard.
Cholodenko treats her subjects with a matter-of-factness that doesn't quite read -- happily -- as a portrait of rural stoicism. In the end, Delia and her daughters remain works in progress, unformed and unfinished. It is a refreshing place to end.
Cinematographer Xavier Perez Grobet ("Deadwood") seems to have thumbed through some American photography collections in preparation for this shoot -- I thought of William Eggleston and Stephen Shore -- and does marvelous things with light. The film would work nearly as well with the sound down. The pictures tell you most of what you need to know.
When: 8 p.m. Sunday
Rating: R, for language
Kyra Sedgwick...Delia Byrd
Aidan Quinn...Clint Windsor
Regan Arnold...Cissy Pritchard
April Mullen...Dede Windsor
Vanessa Zima...Amanda Windsor
Jackie Burroughs...Grandma Louise Windsor
Executive producers, Orly Adelson, Kyra Sedgwick, David Yudain. Director, Lisa Cholodenko. Writer, Anne Meredith.