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Sundance 2024: ‘I Saw the TV Glow’ Review

“I Saw the TV Glow” was marketed as a thriller. Thinking obsession would turn into a blood painted backdrop, instead the film delivers a coming of age story.
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Justice Smith and Brigette Lundy-Paine appear in “I Saw the TV Glow” by Jane Schoenbrun (Courtesy of Sundance Institute)

 

I Saw the TV Glow” is the second film from writer/director Jane Schoenbrun and is distributed by A24 with producer Emma Stone on the roster. Premiering in the Midnight section of the 40th Sundance Film Festival on Jan. 18th, I saw the film at a late-night screening at Salt Lake City’s Broadway Centre Cinema.  

The theater was packed and full of anticipation as pass and ticket holders rummaged around the theater to find an open seat. I was one of the few to get a middle-center seat, one of the best in the house, so when the lights dimmed I was ready. What followed was a visually stunning film, then a Q&A with Schoenbrun and actor Brigette Lundy-Paine who plays Maddy.

“I Saw the TV Glow” is centered around a TV show called “The Pink Opaque” which airs at 10:30 pm on the fictional “Young Adult Network.” Owen who is played by Justice Smith, has always wanted to watch the show. In seventh grade, he encounters Maddy at school reading a show episode guide, and an instant friendship is formed. What follows are the connections and disconnects between the characters as they grow in love and obsession with “The Pink Opaque” TV glow. 

(Cast and Crew of “I Saw the TV Glow” courtesy of Sundance Institute)

Coming of Age Story With a Spooky Backdrop

“I Saw the TV Glow” was marketed as a thriller. Thinking obsession would turn into a blood-painted backdrop, instead, the film delivers a coming-of-age story. Owen grows up with a tough father and kind mother, seeming unable to break out of his shell. Maddy yearns to leave the lonesome town and thinks that “the Pink Opaque” is her way out, quite literally. 

“The Pink Opaque,” which Schoenbrun shared was named after one of her favorite music albums. The show follows two kids living on opposite sides of the county who come together over the “psychic plane” to fight any bad guys threatening the town, most notably Mr. Melancholy and the duo Marco and Polo. As the film progresses we see the TV show blend with the characters’ lives as they struggle to connect and defeat the evils in their lives. Lundy-Paine performs a stunning monologue as Maddy where she begs Owen to believe the show is real. Directing the common fear of time slipping away as we age as a consequence of her and Owen not having “The Pink Opaque” in their lives anymore.

(Jane Schoenbrun at the Sundance premiere of “I Saw the TV Glow” courtesy of Sundance Institute)

Colorful Both Visually and Sonically

Speaking of music, “I Saw the TV Glow” has a killer soundtrack. Schoenbrun shared that the film features 16 original songs commissioned by 16 artists. Maddy and Owen meet up in a bar about halfway through the film and we see Sloppy Jane and Phoebe Bridgers playing a song on stage. Throughout the film, the narrative is conveyed with spoken narration by Owen, and hot pink hand-drawn lettering and drawings.  The aesthetic of this film was consistent and fit the story well, with the neon pinks, greens and blues flowing nicely between the 90s style TV shots to the present day. Schoenbrun shared that while making the film, they and Eric Yue, director of photography, photographed every angle of the film. The work paid off because the shots and colors of the film are beautiful.

Schoenbrun constructed this film as a representation of their journey of self-discovery. In a funny anecdote during the Q&A, Schoenbrun shared that making the film was cathartic, resulting in a “happy time in the graveyard.” Schoenbrun also shared insight on other personal details of the film. The ghost with glasses tattoo that “The Pink Opaque” characters have on their necks is a representation of how the director sees themselves. Which came across as a transient, shapeless being with glasses. Schoenbrun pointed out that a small beat early on in the film that Maddy tells Owen to stop apologizing which is how Owen ends the film, apologizing for his actions even though there is no need to.

(Brigette Lundy-Paine and Justice Smith embrace at “I Saw the TV Glow” Sundance premiere courtesy of Sundance Institute)

While I think “I Saw the TV Glow” could use a few edits before being released to the world, I thoroughly enjoyed the creative and colorful coming-of-age story the film became, even if I wasn’t fully invested in the narrative. The obsession with the TV show seemed too intense for a silly show the audience couldn’t help but laugh at. Although the film never quite reached closure, I did find the underlying themes of wrestling with reality and memory, the fleeting passage of time and the inevitable growing up to be explored beautifully in this film. I look forward to seeing what audiences think later this year when “I Saw the TV Glow” meets the world.

 

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@haleyfreee

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About the Contributor
Haley Freeman, Arts Writer
Haley Freeman is a sophomore mechanical engineering major at the University of Utah. She was born and raised in the Washington, D.C. area, and now is based out of South Carolina, when not traveling or at the U. She enjoys all things ballet, film, photography, and literature. When not writing for the paper, you can catch Haley working sage tech at the Marriott Center for Dance, spending time with her Alpha Chi Omegas, or frolicking in the snow.

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