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Jane Schoenbrun’s I Saw the TV Glow

Justice Smith and Brigette Lundy-Paine in Jane Schoenbrun’s I Saw the TV Glow (2024)

Jane Schoenbrun had been working for several years as a producer when they directed their first feature, A Self-Induced Hallucination (2018), a nonfiction study of the creepypasta phenomenon Slender Man. Here lay the roots for Schoenbrun’s first narrative feature, We’re All Going to the World’s Fair (2021), which premiered at Sundance and told the story of a disaffected teen who gives herself over to an online alternate reality. Months later, Reverse Shot’s Michael Koresky suggested that World’s Fair “may not be a horror movie as we’ve come to understand it, yet it’s undeniably a movie about the experience of horror—as aspiration, as escape, as void.”

Premiering in the Midnight program at Sundance, I Saw the TV Glow is “a confident leap forward that retains the handmade quality of World’s Fair while putting the advantages of an A24 budget to eye-popping use,” writes Sam Adams at Slate. For Carlos Aguilar at the Playlist, the new film is “an entrancing, richly stylized trans masterpiece,” and IndieWire’s David Ehrlich finds that “it marries the queer radicality of a Gregg Araki film with the lush intoxication of a Gregory Crewdson photo.”

The story begins in the mid-1990s, when Owen—played by Ian Foreman as an adolescent and by Justice Smith as a young man—bonds with Maddy (Brigette Lundy-Paine) over their shared fascination with a Saturday night show called The Pink Opaque, in which two psychically connected teenage girls ward off monsters. Sam Adams notes that The Pink Opaque is “a mélange of ’90s TV touchstones, including The X-Files, Are You Afraid of the Dark?, and Twin Peaks. But it’s a treasure trove for Buffy the Vampire Slayer fans, with more Easter eggs (cracked and otherwise) than one could catch in a single viewing.”

Schoenbrun “avoids the mistakes others have made by audaciously creating their own, utterly believable media landscape (original songs from Phoebe Bridgers and Caroline Polachek feel perfectly of the time without being pastiche-y) while realizing that nostalgia can be a corrosive force,” writes the Guardian’s Benjamin Lee. “Their film isn’t a simple indictment of fandom—Schoenbrun is aware of how overwhelming and affirming it can feel to truly love a piece of culture—but it’s also aware of the problems such obsession can bring, when it goes from being your something to being your everything.”

For Vanity Fair’s Richard Lawson, I Saw the TV Glow is “a sharp and honest film, generous in its excavation, in the way it guides the viewer through complicated psychology. It is also bitterly sad, a portrait of confusion and negation that offers no empowerment, no political triumph. The shibboleths of Schoenbrun’s youth, the cultural markers of identity that they seemingly valued so fiercely for so long, are rendered insufficient, useless, even dangerous.”

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