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TELEVISION REVIEW

'Cavedweller' ably explores mother's rocky recovery

The outline of "Cavedweller" might make it sound like a paint-by-numbers Lifetime movie. A woman moves back home to Georgia to make peace with her past, including the two daughters she abandoned more than a decade earlier. But this Showtime movie, premiering tomorrow night at 8, is a richly atmospheric piece of work that tries -- often successfully -- to resist the lure of easy sentiment. Directed by Lisa Cholodenko, and based on the novel by Dorothy Allison, it contains some rewarding drama and a handful of admirable performances.

You know the movie will have a good chance at emotional weight when you first see Kyra Sedgwick, looking into the distance tensely, frown creases on her face. She's the mother in question, Delia, who left her abusive husband (Aidan Quinn) and two daughters to go to Los Angeles with a musician (Sedgwick's real-life husband, Kevin Bacon). Her LA life has just fallen apart, so she decides to go back to Georgia with her third daughter, 11-year-old Cissy, to make repairs. Naturally, those she left behind aren't exactly happy to see her. And neither are strangers; she's infamous in the town as the mother who gave up her children.

The movie moves deliberately toward its goal, which is to bring the mother and all her children together in the same house so they can find a way to coexist without pain. Each step in that direction feels earned, and the gradual pace of the movie reflects Cholodenko's decision not to take emotional shortcuts. Delia visits with the hostile grandmother of her two daughters; she forms an odd truce with the man who drove her out of town with his jealousy and physical violence; and finally she meets her oldest girls, one of whom is an overly passionate born-again Christian. The meeting isn't a Hallmark moment by any measure. Indeed, none of Delia's reconnections is perfectly resolved, which lends them authenticity.

Sedgwick is marvelous, and so are all three of the actresses who play her daughters, particularly Regan Arnold as Cissy. When Delia and her girls are in the same room, the actors make it seem both surreal and oddly natural. Singer Jill Scott delivers her appealing movie debut as Delia's LA friend who understands the complexity of Delia's story almost better than Delia. And Quinn is strong as the monster of the piece, now sick and powerless. "Cavedweller" isn't a cheery movie, not at the beginning and not at the end. But it offers a compelling journey out of the cave and into the present.

Cavedweller
Directed by: Lisa Cholodenko
Starring: Kyra Sedgwick, Aidan Quinn, Sherilyn Fenn, Jill Scott, Kevin Bacon
On: Showtime
Time: Tomorrow night, 8-10

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