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The Independent Critic

Justice Smith, Brigette Lundy-Paine, Ian Foreman, Helena Howard, Fred Durst, Danielle Deadwyler
Jane Schoenbrun
Rated PG-13
100 Mins.
A24 Films

 Movie Review: I Saw the TV Glow 
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It might seem unusual that a seminary graduate would resonate so deeply with writer-director Jane Schoenbrun's extraordinary I Saw the TV Glow, though I can assure you it makes perfect sense. 

If one truly surrenders to it, the seminary journey is one of both academic exploration and spiritual surrender. It's a journey that makes one less sure and more open to asking often unanswerable questions and diving off life's universal cliffs. 

This is very similar to the experience I had with I Saw the TV Glow. I Saw the TV Glow is both deeply reflective and primal scream. Written at a time when Schoenbrun moving into their transition, I Saw the TV Glow debuted at Sundance to raves and has found its distribution home with perhaps the only studio capable of figuring out how market this remarkable flick without exploiting it and its characters. Set in 90s suburbia, I Saw the TV Glow introduces us to Owen (Justice Smith), an outsider everywhere he goes including with his own parents. He's obsessed with a TV show he's never actually seen, "The Pink Opaque," a Buffy-esque melodrama centered around two young women battling an otherworldly villain named Mr. Melancholy. Initially in seventh-grade when we meet him, Owen encounters the ninth-grade Maddy (Brigette Lundy-Paine). Maddy initially dismisses Owen as "just a baby," though his interest in an episodic book she's reading about "The Pink Opaque" sparks not so much a friendship as an invitation into a different way of existing than either of them had ever known before. 

As I made my way through seminary, I found myself at a point of having to become an entirely new being. Having grown up in more of a cultish experience, I had to undefine everything I believed in favor of a new way of existing in faith. 

However, this is not the only way I connected with I Saw the TV Glow. As a disabled adult who grew up with spina bifida, I've always had a different sort of relationship with my body. I spent much of my early 20s trying to prove that I could have sex by basically fucking anything that moved and anyone who would say yes. At some point, I realized none of that was working and I wasn't happy, even remotely happy, existing within that world of uncomfortable sexuality and trying to find happiness in something that didn't make me happy. Over the years, I've experienced three limb amputations, both legs below the knees and then less than five years ago the left leg above the knee, and this further rearranged my relationship with my body. Finally, within the past year, I survived both bladder and prostate cancer while becoming host to a urostomy and beginning to live in a body that demanded intimacy in a different way. 

I could either repress everything I was as a human being or I could give myself to the miracle of it all. 

I chose miracle. It's a choice that made me resonate deeply with Lundy-Paine's Maddy, a young woman whose obsession with "The Pink Opaque" likely crosses the line into an obsession that some will consider to be nearing psychosis. Yet, I saw her as something more. There's a sense of body dysphoria with both Owen and Maddy, Maddy's willingness to leap off that cliff paralleled by Owen's staunch repression to the point of an equal and fierce madness that becomes less certain as he gets older. 

It's this theme of letting go of repression that radiates throughout I Saw the TV Glow. It's a theme that will resonate with anyone who's ever had to jump off a cliff trusting wings they cannot see and not knowing if somehow they will learn to fly. 

I'm talking about someone who is trans learning how to experience the world in their true self. 

I'm talking about an abuse survivor learning how to love in a safe world.

I'm talking about the domestic violence survivor who learns how to be in a relationship without the violence. 

And yes, I'm talking about a person with a disability learning how to live in a body that is simply a different expression of holy. 

In case you haven't caught on by now, I resonated immensely with I Saw the TV Glow. It's easily one of my favorite films of 2024 and perhaps my very favorite film of the year thus far. It's bold, masterful, vulnerable, and exhilarating filmmaking with a pristine vision that is uncompromised. It's the kind of filmmaking we rarely see these days and a film that attracted the likes of Danielle Deadwyler and Fred Durst, playing Owen's always unsettled parents, the music of Phoebe Bridgers (and others in a remarkable soundtrack), and Emma Stone and her husband Dave McCary as producers for the film. 

It's clear that both Justice Smith and Brigette Lundy-Paine embraced Schoenbrun's invitation into this achingly naked filmmaking that bare's souls and demands surrender. Both are truly exceptional here, Smith's changed but not quite so much Owen powerful to watch over the course of his life and Lundy-Paine's Maddy nothing short of mesmerizing throughout. 

Schoenbrun's dialogue invites personal experience. While I have experienced it one way, you may very well experience it another. The filmmaking itself is unquestionably sublime, stunningly beautiful yet also unforgettably jarring. Eric Yue's lensing for the film embodies the film's nostalgia-tinged dissociation and universal glow. The original score by Alex G amplifies the film's sense of psychodramatic cliff-diving and Brandon Tonner-Connolly's production design feels like 90's suburbia meets Twilight Zone. Kudos must also be offered for Rachel Dainer-Best's intuitive and personal costume design, Paige Mitchell's strong set decoration, and Sofi Marshall's ability to capture the film's rhythms in editing. 

Across the board, I Saw the TV Glow is an exceptional film. 

I Saw the TV Glow is the kind of bold, masterful cinema we've come to expect from an A24 film. With sensitivity and insight galore and a soul-baring ensemble cast, I Saw the TV Glow is one of the best films of 2024. 

Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic