14th Jun2024

Sundance London 2024: ‘I Saw the TV Glow’ Review

by Jasmine Valentine

Stars: Justice Smith, Brigette Lundy-Paine, Ian Foreman, Helena Howard, Fred Durst, Danielle Deadwyler | Written and Directed by Jane Schoenbrun

On school election night in 1996, 7th grader Owen (Justice Smith) meets 9th grader Maddy (Brigette Lundy-Paine), who is engrossed by an episode guide of her favorite TV show, The Pink Opaque. Her enthusiasm for the series catches Owen’s interest, and the pair begin to watch the show together. Years pass by and The Pink Opaque still keeps the pair connected, until the show becomes more than just fiction.

Few films have been as unexpectedly poignant as I Saw the TV Glow. It’s one that viewers are possibly best coming into blind, leaving absolutely every 90s-themed twist and turn to the expected. There’s an incredible amount of nuance and yet, thanks to Jane Schoenbrun’s skilled creatorship, it’s all amazingly accessible. Absolutely anybody watching can understand why this story needs to be told — and that’s exactly what cinema currently needs.

For anyone unaware, I Saw the TV Glow essentially acts as an allegory for someone transitioning gender, brooding on how a person can feel so isolated and foreign from their own physical being that it takes over an entire lifespan, disabling someone’s opportunity to grow, evolve, and do anything other than survive. Owen is a complete shell of himself from beginning to end, only seeming to make some sense of himself and his surroundings when connected with The Pink Opaque. Stylised with heavy inspiration from Buffy the Vampire Slayer, this fake TV show arguably isn’t convincing in its execution, but that’s not really a constructive complaint for an independent film made on a tight budget.

What The Pink Opaque does do, however, is provide the foundation for a remarkable blurring of fantasy and reality. At the climax of the movie’s third yet, this becomes almost indistinguishable, with Owen and Maddy’s conversations only heightening more layers of absurdist drama. It all makes complete sense at the same time as it doesn’t, and while we’re equally as lost in a young adult TV show, our breaths are taken away through a reality any cis-person will never experience.

Regardless of the practical niggles, it’s a remarkable feat from Schoenbrun — and what’s more, it’s a real leap forward from her already intriguing debut We’re All Going to the World’s Fair. She’s as ambitious and she is authentic, and she’s easily becoming one of the most exciting directorial voices 2020s cinema has to offer. I Saw the TV Glow always remains full of heart, yet delivers each scene in the most painful way possible. The film struggles and squirms within its own sense of being, and that in itself is a shock to any system.

Thankfully, UK viewers now have a solid release date after the longest stretch of time where its international distribution dangled in thin air. The Pink Opaque is certainly real, and it even more so needs to be seen.

**** 4/5

I Saw the TV Glow screened as part of this year’s Sundance London film festival.

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