I Saw the TV Glow REVIEW – We Saw A Good Movie

I Saw the TV Glow
I Saw the TV Glow

At one point in I Saw the TV Glow, Jane Schoenbrun’s followup to the phenomenal We’re All Going to the World’s Fair, protagonist Owen (Justice Smith) talks about feeling as if he’s been hollowed out, and that’s exactly how the film leaves you feeling. Or at least, that’s how it left me feeling.

Early in I Saw the TV Glow, we learn about The Pink Opaque, the TV show that quickly becomes the center of Owen’s life, and the show’s many reference points mark out the film’s interest in subjectivity. The Pink Opaque centers on two psychically linked teenage friends fighting the supernatural forces of evil in alternating monster of the week and mythology episodes; also one of the friends is named Tara (Lindsey Jordan).

For me, the show immediately brought to mind Buffy the Vampire Slayer, a connection that is emphasized later in the film when Amber Benson, who played a character named Tara on Buffy, makes a brief cameo. For others, Tara and Isabel (Helena Howard) meeting at summer camp and the villain’s “Midnight Realm” may elicit memories of Are You Afraid of the Dark’s campfires and “Midnight Society.” There’s also the fact that the show’s title is a direct reference to “The Pink Opaque” compilation album by the Cocteau Twins.

Narratively, I Saw the TV Glow centers on Owen’s adoration of The Pink Opaque, and the show as the connection between Owen and the slightly older Maddy (Brigette Lundy-Paine). The film is fascinated by the way media, and TV shows in particular, can become such a significant part of adolescents’ lives and identities. There’s a sense of wonder and joy at the kinds of connections to other viewers that dedication to a show can foster, but also a sense of dread at what it may mean to lose oneself entirely through devotion to a beloved piece of media.

By creating a fictional piece of media that can evoke various extremely specific memories for different viewers, Schoenbrun implicates us and forces us to reflect on our own relationships to the pop culture that’s shaped us. Later in the film, they move beyond indirect reference to various media into outright reverence for contemporary music through what can only be described as mini-music videos.

Schoenbrun uses a bar scene to offer gorgeously shot and perfectly produced performances from Sloppy Jane and King Woman. It’s another sequence that invites audience members, with disparate aesthetic investments, to connect with the film on the level that Owen and Maddie connect with The Pink Opaque. Personally, I enjoyed the minimalist art rock Sloppy Jane song, but I’ve already forgotten its melody, whereas King Woman’s crushingly heavy, shriek-filled performance gave me goosebumps.

Of course, these music-centric moments are far from the only ones that look and sound amazing. Schoenbrun and cinematographer Eric Yue (who shot the Lucy Daucus music video “Night Shift” with Schoenbrun) fill the screen with various hues of greens, purples, and pinks throughout the film and create several indelible images; one of an icecream truck billowing out pink smoke is especially awe-inspiring. They also use significant empty space in many of the compositions, emphasizing both the loneliness of the two leads and the true barrenness of much of America’s suburbs. Working in tandem with these images is the score by Alex G that conjures a simultaneously alluring and unnerving soundscape for the film.

As with their first film, Schoenbrun doesn’t posit any clear theses. Instead of delivering any statements about our relationships with media and how those relationships impact how we connect with ourselves and each other, I Saw the TV Glow functions entirely as an aesthetic and emotional experience. There are ideas floating around the film that can be discussed and analyzed, but I Saw the TV Glow isn’t didactic. It uses its central obsession to obliquely strike emotional pressure points, delivering a devastating and unforgettable film that’s impossible to pin down because of its commitment to subjectivity at every level.

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I Saw the TV Glow
Jane Schoenbrun delivers on the promise they showed with We’re All Going to the World’s Fair, in a remarkable film that uses pop culture to speak to every viewer as an individual.