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Review: I Saw the TV Glow (2024)

I Saw the TV Glow (2024)

Directed by: Jane Schoenbrun

Premise: Two outcast teenagers (Justice Smith and Brigette Lundy-Paine) bond over their love of a late-night television show. Years later they reunite under mysterious circumstances.

What Works: I Saw the TV Glow is an ambitious production. Much of the story is set in the 1990s and the production design recreates the era faithfully. The relationship between the two lead characters centers around the fictional television show The Pink Opaque which is reminiscent of the fantasy programs popular in the 1990s like Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Charmed. Those shows had a specific look which is recreated quite well. The filmmakers look back on that era and its media with nostalgia but also a sense of humor; they get the hokey nature of these fantasy dramas while also understanding why the fans fell in love with them. These young people find something profound in the show and some of the most compelling aspects of I Saw the TV Glow dramatize how media can speak to us at a particular age but play quite differently when we revisit it as an adult. I Saw the TV Glow is highly stylized with interesting lighting choices and a few striking and creative visuals.

What Doesn’t: I Saw the TV Glow was produced by A24, a studio that has earned a reputation for distributing challenging and unusual pictures, and directed by Jane Schoenbrun who previously helmed We’re All Going to the World’s Fair. I Saw the TV Glow is more accessible than Schoenbrun’s previous effort but it is still largely abstract and inscrutable in the style of David Lynch films such as Eraserhead and Lost Highway. The fact that I Saw the TV Glow is challenging is not a flaw but even allowing that the film is metaphorical, it doesn’t quite come together. There are a few ways to interpret it; I Saw the TV Glow may be about the overlap of reality and media or it can be understood as a coming-of-age story about LGBTQ and nonbinary people. The ambiguity of I Saw the TV Glow partly owes to the movie’s style but also its lack of focus; it meanders in a way that suits the vibe and coming of age themes but also distracts the viewer’s attention. I Saw the TV Glow suffers from some of the casting. Ian Foreman plays the younger version of Justice Smith’s character but the two actors don’t look like the same person. The end of the picture leaps forward in time with Smith playing an older version of the character. The makeup effects are not convincing.  

Bottom Line: I Saw the TV Glow is a mixed effort. Jane Schoenbrun remains a promising filmmaker with a distinct style. There are some compelling idea and images in this picture but the whole is less than the sum of its parts.

Episode: #998 (June 2, 2024)