I Saw the TV Glow (2024)

I Saw the TV Glow Review

I Saw the TV Glow

The second narrative feature by Jane Schoenbrun is a persistent search for connection within still spaces between analog pixels. They mix dreamlike logic into found memories, particularly in an early scene that understands how the otherworldly glow of television can offer wide-eyed salvation in even the darkest room. Owen (Ian Foreman), a young person who looks like a twist curl and smiles like a sunrise, convinces his mother Brenda (Danielle Deadwyler) to let him sleep over at a classmate’s house somewhere across perfectly manicured lawns. But instead of going where he said he would go, Owen walks through the night to visit Maddy (Brigette Lundy-Paine), an older girl he barely knows from school, and Maddy’s friend, who are watching “The Pink Opaque” on the Young Adult Network.

Grotesque monsters wiggle across Owen’s vision alongside slippery mythologies; they do not scare him. They enthrall him. That dopamine jolt of recognition has haunted Owen ever since one of many such moments in this film that have called me back again and again.

Mostly set during Owen’s late teens, “I Saw the TV Glow” takes place at a time when questions of identity, sexuality and personhood tend to rear their heads with arresting frequency. A transformative Justice Smith plays this outcast incarnation of Owen like permanent scar tissue: By now there are so many layers that it hurts all over when you touch any one spot. His years as a young adult are marked by personal tragedy and a fraught friendship with Maddy that ebbs and flows in response to their shared love for what might as well be “Buffy The Vampire Slayer.” The show is how we learn about the weight crushing down on Owen; the addresses are when we hear him speak its name. It’ll drug you into an I haven’t moved my body in 20 minutes state before shattering the trance with a text message that sends you into full-on panic mode.

From the second Owen sees Maddy reading an episode guide to “The Pink Opaque,” he’s looking for himself even if he doesn’t know it. The first time he sneaks over there might be a one-off, but two years after they reconnect and by then she’s not making him climb through her window anymore. Instead she leaves VHS recordings of each week’s episodes “Homecoming to Get You,” “The Trouble With Tara Part 1” in pink ink, which Owen finds waiting for him in their school’s dark room. He watches them until his breath disappears and keeps digging, deeper into both himself and the show.

“The Pink Opaque,” a story within the story, is just as unforgettable: Two girls fight weekly against bad guys sent by the big monster, a squashed moon named Mr. Sad, in the shape of a moon. Schoenbrun makes these shows seem like they’re just playing with each other at first, before letting slip what might be more profound or abstract about Owen and Maddy. In this context, Owen and Maddy see their ordinary suburb one whose “normcore” gender roles and dead-end ambitions are suffocating through a queer lens. “What about you? Do you like girls?” Maddy asks Owen on the school bleachers. “I don’t know,” says a shy Owen. “Boys?” continues Maddy. “I think I like TV shows,” Smith says deadly flatly. “When I think about that stuff, I feel like someone took a shovel and dug out my insides. I know there’s nothing there, but I’m still too nervous to open myself up to check.”

While it’s possible that Owen’s insecurities could be diagnosed as feelings related to gender dysphoria (but also could not), watching “I Saw the TV Glow,” I kept thinking of Jordan Peele’s “Us” which uses an earlier decade (the 1980s) and its reductive politics as an entry point for rendering Reagan’s America economic horror from the perspective of a Black nuclear family’s misguidedly consumerist pursuit of upward mobility over and over again.

And TV plays such an important role in that movie! It’s Addy seeing Hands Across America on television and deciding to stage her rebellion after realizing that too many people have to live through this for one person to get their dream; it’s also television that unmoor’s owen’s place in this picturesque town he is animated by Clinton’s America lie when it made itself look gay friendly by making everything the same and safe under the guise of allowing people to be different in a world where everyone was already living as whatever they wanted. Owen is not just one of few black faces we see around, but he’s also drawn to maddy because her identity crisis has been heightened by her relationship with TV; for Maddy, it becomes a roadmap like Addy.

On the other hand, television where Black subjectivity gets shaken up, blended together, and then lived again is such a scary medium for owen that he’d rather embrace the safe fantasy of blending in by being undefined.

When directors move up on paper, they become more conservative safe careerist; it feels like they make this film thinking about how this will help them stay at their new budget range. With “I Saw the TV Glow,” Schoenbrun’s glossy follow-up to his resourcefully executed “We’re All Going to The World’s Fair,” films like he doesn’t want to live in regret of the shot that he didn’t get, the risk not taken, the leap that never left. The catchy original soundtrack? Exciting practical effects? Intoxicating photography? Risky editing (blending together conscious and imagined worlds)? These are all the big adventurous swings of an undaunted filmmaker.

This boldness is reflected in the performances of the film. Lundy-Paine is resolute, portraying Maddy as an outwardly direct person with a hidden inner world full of pain. In terms of physicality, Smith initially imitates Lundy-Paine’s stance as Owen. However, as their characters go through different emotional states, they start to move differently: Lundy-Paine adopts a wide self-confident posture while Smith closes himself off even more by pulling his chest inwards. In fact, it would not be an exaggeration to say that Smith puts up an amazing performance – his transformation appears natural without any traces of being artificial or forced.

He speaks through his body which shows lack of confidence; over time his voice begins sounding like that of someone who died many years ago; eventually his eyes turn into empty holes filled with nothing but resignation towards life. There is one scene towards the end where he lets out a scream so loud it breaks everything around him followed by a smile so bright it can light up whole city blocks – this moment echoes Schoenbrun‘s “I Saw the TV Glow” (which keeps playing over and over again throughout the movie) in terms of its power and energy: both are equally intense but each time feels like new despite being repeated multiple times before at least once in your life .

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