Reel Reviews | I Saw The TV Glow (Sundance ’24)

by Charles Kirkland, Jr.

A young boy and his friend are severely affected by a strange late-night kids’ television show in, I Saw The TV Glow.

When seventh grade Owen sees a commercial for a young adult, science fiction, television show called “The Pink Opaque,” he is immediately captivated by the concept.  When he asks his parents if he can watch the show, he is told that he can’t because it airs after his bedtime.  Later, he meets ninth-grader Maddy who is a devout fan of the show, and tells him how he can trick his parents and get to see the show at her house.  When he enacts Maddy’s plan, he sees a show that will change their lives forever.

I Saw The TV Glow is written and directed by Jane Schoenbrun (We’re All Going to the World’s Fair).  It stars Justice Smith as Owen, Brigette Lundy-Paine as Maddy with Fred Durst, and Danielle Deadwyler.

Justice Smith is the primary star in this film.  He spends an inordinate amount of time wandering uncomfortably through the scenes of the film and droning on in an often, low, monotone, emotionless voice.  This seems to be Smith’s wheelhouse in performances.  As the movie centers around him mostly, his acting in this film leaves us detached.

Brigitte Lundy-Paine’s performance in the film is the standout.  Her range is wide in the film.  She is the exact opposite of Smith in the film.  She gets angry and cusses.  She is despondent and resigned at times but mostly she is defiant and brash.  Again, the exact opposite of Smith.

But maybe that is the point.  Honestly, there is very little that can be identified as a plot for this film.  There is even less of a story.  Schoenbrun has fused a series of random images, moments, and musings into a patchwork collage of insanity that is impossible to track.  The lines between reality and fiction are blurred together, leaving the audience to wonder what is real.

There is a key scene in the film that holds a possible clue as to how this film should be seen.  Maddy confesses to Owen that she likes girls.  Owen doesn’t respond. She asks Owen what he likes and he replies that he likes television which could be an expression of gender neutrality.  This idea could hold the key to understanding the film as a representation of how confusing and incredibly hard it is to navigate this world as a queer person.

Unfortunately, this thought is an attempt to make sense out of no sense.  There is little else given in this film to support, validate, or disprove this theory.  Given that the film was purchased before the Sundance Film Festival, shows us that someone understands this film.  All that most audiences will come away with from I Saw The TV Glow is that it is sheer lunacy.

Because it is a festival release, this film has not yet been rated.  The movie does include scenes of violence, suicide, strobing effects, and language and is probably not suitable for children under the age of seventeen.  I Saw the TV Glow is a harsh and hard-to-understand assault upon sense and sensibility.  It leaves the watchers with a lot to think about and no answers.

 Grade: F