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Movie Review: 'I Saw the TV Glow' Starring Justice Smith

I Saw the TV Glow is one of the best of 2024 so far.

By Sean PatrickPublished 23 days ago 5 min read
Top Story - May 2024

I Saw the TV Glow (2024)

Directed by Jane Schoenbrun

Written by Jane Schoenbrun

Starring Justice Smith, Brigette Lundy-Paine, Ian Foreman, Helena Howard, Fred Durst, Danielle Deadwyler

Release Date May 17th, 2024

Published May 17th, 2024

I Saw the TV Glow is my favorite movie of 2024 so far. Written and directed by rising star Jane Schoenbrun, the auteur behind the brilliant We're All Going to the World's Fair, I Saw the TV Glow centers on the story of Owen, played by Ian Foreman as a child and Justice Smith as he gets to High School and beyond. Owen was a lonely kid with no friends. A traumatic childhood pushed Owen deep inside himself. As if possessed by a will outside of himself, Owen brings himself to talk to a girl, a slightly older kid at his High School, Maddy (Brigette Lundy Paine).

Knowing what it is like to be an outsider, Maddy takes pity on Owen and shares with him her book. It's a book about her favorite TV show, a supernatural mystery called The Pink Opaque. The show is about two teenage girls who meet at a summer camp and then never see each other again, in person. Instead, the show protagonists can speak to each other across a different plain of existence. This incredible talent allows them to fight monsters that attack their respective hometowns. It's an odd show that airs on weekends, Saturday nights at 10:30 PM. Too bad for Owen that it airs after his bedtime.

Owen's life at home is rigidly scheduled. Though his mother, played by Danielle Deadwyler, is loving and sweet, his stepfather, played by Fred Durst, is angry and abusive. We don't see the abuse, but it's well implied. One way that we get the sense of malevolence is that the Stepdad spends most of his time in the living room watching television in an aggressively loud fashion and he gets quite angry when he gets interrupted during his shows. When Maddy invites Owen to come to her house and watch the show, he decides to lie to his mother and schemes to go to Maddy's so he can watch the show with her.

It's a strange and awkward start to their friendship, but it works. Though they rarely speak after this first sleepover, Maddy takes pity on Owen by recording The Pink Opaque on VHS and dropping episodes off for him in a photo lab at school. Eventually, they do resume their get togethers but Maddy is becoming increasingly restless. She wants to leave but, more to the point, she's starting to see something in The Pink Opaque that only she can see. One night, Maddy takes off, completely disappears, and Owen is left alone.

Years pass before Maddy makes a shocking return. She explains her disappearance, sort of. According to Maddie, The Pink Opaque is real. I will stop my plot description there because anything else might go into too much information territory. The bottom line is that, in Maddy's mind, nothing in the real world that Owen inhabits is as it appears. According to Maddy, Owen has a choice to make: stay in this world where things are lonely to the point of agonizing, or come with her to wherever she's going, a potentially dangerous delusion about their favorite TV show.

I Saw the TV Glow is an allegory for being trans. That's one of the defining aspects of the narrative, one that writer-director Jane Schoenbrun has foregrounded in media appearances because she doesn't want anyone to misunderstand the intentional choices made. It's not a spoiler to say that this is a movie about being trans. How we get to the allegory, the filmmaking and story choices that carry us there, are so incredible that the allegory can only be willfully misunderstood. The movie is about dysphoria, it's about the mental trials that a trans person must wrestle with to arrive at who they are.

And those choices I am talking about are brilliantly experimental. Schoenbrun uses the tools at her disposal to elevate exposition scenes via the artful use of camera and editing. One scene, set in a bar on a noisy live music night, is cut with Owen and Maddy having an urgent conversation while a pair of very different musical performances occur. One of the performances is melodic and lovely, the other is angry and bold. It's representative of the war going on between the perspectives of our main characters but also inside the mind of one of the characters. The music in this sequence is awesome and the soundtrack for I Saw the TV Glow is going to be a must own.

The style throughout I Saw the TV Glow is impeccable. The lighting style torments you in a way that mirrors the torment of the main character. There are flashing lights, unique angles, and framing choices that are picture perfect but also, slightly off. Particularly, a scene at a carnival where Danielle Deadwyler and Justice Smith are having a tough conversation, has the two of them squeezed to the side of the frame. Not much is happening in the rest of the frame but the framing itself makes the moment feel even more intimate because they are huddled together, crowded into the corner together, Owen slightly hidden by a large ball of blue cotton candy.

The gendered colors of Pink and Blue pop up throughout to remind you about the societal expectations of gender performance. Quite pointedly, Owen spits on that Blue Cotton candy causing it melt away, the sound design capturing a snap, crackle and pop sound, as the spit destroys the feeble bonding of colored, spun sugar. Spitting in the face of the artificiality of gender performance. It's little moments like this that linger in your mind long after you see I Saw the TV Glow. As a whole however, I Saw the TV Glow is a haunting, breathtaking, and heartbreaking film.

Like that Blue Cotton Candy, the TV show title, The Pink Opaque, is another specific choice. The title essentially translates to pink that you cannot see through. It's gender norms hardened into something you cannot see past. Little thoughtful choices like this make for a rich experience. You can watch I Saw the TV Glow many times and find new elements that underscore the theme of the movie in exciting and artful ways. All the while, a powerful human story is unfolding. The style doesn't overwhelm the story, it greatly enhances the story. This is a richly detailed world and one I could not take my eyes off of from the first scene to the last. I was simply riveted by Jane Schoenbrun's direction and the tremendous performances of Justice Smith and Brigette Lundy-Pain.

I Saw the TV Glow is a must see movie, one of the best movies of 2024 so far.

Find my archive of more than 20 years and more than 2000 movie reviews at SeanattheMovies.blogspot.com. Find my modern review archive on my Vocal Profile, linked here. Follow me on Twitter at PodcastSean. Follow the archive blog on Twitter at SeanattheMovies. Listen to me talk about movies on the I Hate Critics Movie Review Podcast. If you have enjoyed what you have read, consider subscribing to my writing on Vocal. If you'd like to support my writing, you can do so by making a monthly pledge or by leaving a one-time tip. Thanks!

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About the Creator

Sean Patrick

Hello, my name is Sean Patrick He/Him, and I am a film critic and podcast host for the I Hate Critics Movie Review Podcast I am a voting member of the Critics Choice Association, the group behind the annual Critics Choice Awards.

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Nice work

Very well written. Keep up the good work!

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Comments (6)

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  • Dr. Jason Benskin11 days ago

    Fantastic writing.

  • shanmuga priya14 days ago

    Congratulations 🎉 Sean Patrick

  • Brother, congrats on your TS.

  • I love how you explain the director and their intent with the artistic scenes. So so glad I read this👏👏💖💖😍😍

  • angela hepworth15 days ago

    This sounds great! Definitely going on my watch list.

  • Carol Townend22 days ago

    This sounds like a very interesting movie. I'm guessing the term 'Pink Opaque' is a psychological metaphor. I'd like to see this one.

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