I Saw the TV Glow film poster and movie review

Movie Reviews

I Saw the TV Glow

Reviewed by:
Luke Bonanno on May 9, 2024

Theatrical Release:
May 3, 2024

Jane Schoenbrun's second narrative feature is an unnerving mystery, a psychological character study, and an art film with both style and substance.

Running Time100 min

RatingR

Running Time 100 min

RatingR

Jane Schoenbrun

Jane Schoenbrun

Justice Smith (Owen), Brigette Lundy-Paine as Maddy, Ian Foreman (Young Owen), Helena Howard (Isabel), Fred Durst (Frank), Danielle Deadwyler (Brenda), Lindsey Jordan (Tara), Amber Benson (Johnny Link's Mom), Conner O'Malley (Dave), Emma Portner (Mr. Melancholy, Marco, Amanda, Evil Clown), Michael C. Maronna (Neighbor 1), Danny Tamberelli (Neighbor 2)


I Saw the TV Glow (2024)

by Luke Bonanno

For many viewers, Jane Schoenbrun’s I Saw the TV Glow is as relatable as horror movies get. This offbeat A24 indie tells the story of two awkward suburban youths who bond over a television series in the late 1990s.

On Election Day 1996, quiet seventh grader Owen (Ian Foreman) has his eye caught by the sight of ninth grader Maddy (Brigette Lundy-Paine) paging through an episode guide to “The Pink Opaque.” Owen has seen the children’s show advertised, but he’s never gotten to watch it because it airs after his bedtime. Maddy invites him to come over to her house on Saturday night to watch the show, which he does, pretending to sleep over a lapsed friend his parents know. The series, a cross between ’90s Nickelodeon staples “The Adventures of Pete & Pete”, “Are You Afraid of the Dark?”, and “Goosebumps”, becomes not just a shared interest but the foundation of Owen and Maddy’s unusual friendship.

The two remain kindred spirits for years, with Maddy providing taped episodes and Owen (now Justice Smith) obsessing over them in private. One day, Maddy shares her plan to leave town and invites Owen to join her. He opts not to and her subsequent disappearance, noted by a burning television set, baffles authorities. Their paths cross eight years later when Maddy turns up at a grocery store alive, but perhaps not well, as she tries to explain “The Pink Opaque” has never been just a television series for them.

In "i saw the tv glow," maddy (brigette lundy-paine) and owen (ian foreman) first cross paths on election day 1996, bonding over maddy's treasured episode guide to "the pink opaque. "

This strange, original film is a love letter to ’90s kids’ television, a format faithfully recreated in hazy lo-fi video. It’s also a celebration of nostalgia, specifically the pop culture that leaves an indelible impression on us as children and to which no adult favorites will ever truly compare. More than any other film, I Saw the TV Glow acknowledges the power that fandom can give teenagers battling loneliness and melancholy both at home and out in the world. For anyone who could more easily put together a list of their all-time favorite television series than one of their closest friends, this will certainly resonate.

In their second narrative feature, Schoenbrun shows command of the medium. This is an unnerving mystery, a psychological character study, an art film with both style and substance. You never know where this is going and unfortunately, neither does the filmmaker, leaving us with an abrupt and unsatisfying ending that mars the suburban slow burn that has arrested and entranced up until then. It’s always frustrating when a film that flirts with greatness falls just a little bit short.

Owen (justice smith) and maddy (brigette lundy-paine) reunite in adulthood in "i saw the tv glow. "

That underwhelming conclusion is one of few questionable choices here, the most glaring of which is having 13-year-old Foreman and the nearly 30-year-old Smith play the same character only two years apart. Smith, who has shown his chops in big mainstream movies like Detective Pikachu, two Jurassic World sequels, and last year’s likable Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves, is so awkward and deadpan as our protagonist that it’s a little tough to relate to the perfectly ordinary coming-of-age struggles he’s wrestling with. In contrast, Lundy-Paine recalls a young Winona Ryder with her equally uneasy misfit, impressing with the most grandiose monologue in an A24 elevated horror film since Pearl. Both characters pull on our heartstrings. The movie is smart enough to spare us a conventional romance that most screenplays would have asked us to buy. Maddy identifies as lesbian. Owen seems clearly asexual; his “I like TV shows” response to Maddy’s question is one of the film’s bigger chuckles. There is much opportunity to read into the narrative as a journey in identification in any sense.

I Saw the TV Glow will hit different for those old enough to remember a world before the Internet and cell phones were everywhere, a world in which TV reruns provided genuine, stimulating mental escape. The sweet spot is probably viewers currently in their late thirties and early forties, which is older than the typical genre movie target and many an A24 hit’s fanbase. It is doubtful that anyone much younger than the 37-year-old Schoenbrun will recognize “Pete & Pete” stars Michael C. Maronna and Daniel Tamberelli in their brief, surreal, silent cameo. It is downright improbable that anyone younger than that (or older, for that matter) will identify and appreciate Limp Bizkit frontman Fred Durst as Owen’s ice cold father.

After an impressive debut in four theaters last week, the film expands to nationwide release on May 17th, boasting stellar reviews and perhaps less unanimous word of mouth.

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