Review: ‘I Saw The TV Glow”

Justice Smith Becomes A Cult TV Show Obsessive In Jane Schoenbrun's Captivating Nostalgic Horror Film

I believe there are two main types of representation. One that is meant to educate and expose a prominent demographic to an unfamiliar one and another type that is meant for the marginalized group to feel seen. In Jane Schoenbrun’s sophomore feature, it’s that latter definition of representation that is seared into I Saw The TV Glow. Through 90s nostalgia, suburban gray skies, and purply pink hues only seen before on Euphoria, A24’s latest indie darling hurdles the viewer through fandom and identity politics in the most captivating and jarring packaging.

Justice Smith channels his often awkward performance style into Owen, a young man who is first intrigued by the supernatural teen drama The Pink Opaque as a child. He is never feeling comfortable enough to watch it due to his strict parents (Fred Durst and Danielle Deadwyler). In middle school (then played by the compelling Ian Foreman) he meets Maddie (Brigette Lundy-Paine), a quiet alternative girl reading an episode guide about the show. They have a solemn sleepover to watch a live episode together but scarcely interact after that.

This one-time interaction colors Owen’s childhood who rewatches The Pink Opaque through video tapes Maddie leaves for him, their only form of interaction. When Maddy has finally had enough of their small town, she invites Owen to come with her. He eventually backs out sensing a disturbing presence, and doesn’t hear from Maddy for several years. When she returns well into his adulthood, Owen’s interactions with her and his favorite show bring up larger questions about his own reality. 

I Saw The TV Glow knows what it is even if the audience doesn’t always have a clear idea. Schoenbrun’s vision is so distinct and calculated that you trust their vision. From the sparse and gray suburban streets to the bright trans-flag-colored parachute in Owen’s gym class at the beginning, color is used to dissect Owen’s perception of reality. 

Justice Smith is for once perfectly cast as the awkward, reserved, and questioning Owen. The character’s gender identity has been rightfully talked about in other reviews but he also brings elements of neurodiversity to the part, from a higher-pitched voice to a lack of eye contact. There’s something sadly endearing about his performance. Brigette Lundy-Paine is mesmerizing as Maddie, delivering cryptic monologues about campy moon-like villains and being buried alive. 

While Schoenbrun’s dialogue could leave something to be desired and could be tightened up, the film’s soundtrack is perfectly curated. Featuring 15 original songs, each one sounds like it belongs in an edgy 90’s TV show. Shoenbrun’s knowledge of current artists pays off as indie musician Lindsey Jordan aka Snail Mail plays a character on The Pink Opaque. In one scene, Phoebe Bridgers performs with Sloppy Jane, while King Woman sings in another. 

Schoenbrun packs the cast with various familiar faces from 90s nostalgic shows. Amber Benson who played Tara on Buffy the Vampire Slayer pops up for a cameo. Fans of Nickelodeon favorite The Adventures of Pete & Pete may spot its stars Michael C. Maronna and Danny Tamberelli throughout Owen’s neighborhood and in very nostalgic Canadian TV makeup. The previously mentioned Fred Durst is the frontman for Limp Biskit and personifies a terrifying father figure. All these references work in the film’s favor building a parallel queer reality. Those from other generations might not get it, but for the queer millennial, I Saw The TV Glow is a film you can feel.

I Saw The TV Glow is playing in theaters. Watch the trailer below.

'I Saw The TV Glow'
A D.C area native, Cortland has been interested in media since birth. Taking film classes in high school and watching the classics with family instilled a love of film in Cortland’s formative years. Before graduating with a degree in English and minoring in Film Study from Elizabethtown College in Pennsylvania, Cortland ran the college’s radio station, where she frequently reviewed films on air. She then wrote for another D.C area publication before landing at Punch Drunk Critics. Aside from writing and interviewing, she enjoys podcasts, knitting, and talking about representation in media.
review-i-saw-the-tv-glowJane Schoenbrun’s second feature is an immersive dive into the mind of a queer 90s kid, one filled with nostalgia and jarring visuals.