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I Saw The TV Glow – Sundance London 2024 (Film Review)

3 min read

Nostalgia is a powerful tool in film. An evocation of something you experienced or even just knew about when you were younger makes you feel as if you're part of the story on screen. I Saw the TV Glow weaves together a nostalgia-driven plot with a personal journey, showing us what it feels like to both deny one's true self and feel the pull for what we needed when we were younger. Director Jane Schoenbrun calls upon a delicate mix of genres – more specifically the sci-fi fantasy dramas of the 90s – to create a unique and fascinating TV show within the film, making it quite unlike anything else made in recent years. But at times, some of its narrative choices and a constant bleak overtone let it down.

Owen and Maddie are two troubled kids who bond over the sci-fi fantasy young adult TV show, The Pink Opaque. As time goes by they each start to question their identities and realities, until Maddie disappears one day. Owen is left stuck in their suburban home town, living out his sad existence until Maddie reappears almost a decade later asking if he remembers their favourite TV show as kids, believing there was more to the show than either of them realised.

Anyone who watched 90s TV can feel the excitement from The Pink Opaque. Its Buffy-esque look and style make it feel authentic and the pair of friends cling to the show as if it's their only way to survive – highly relatable behaviour if you were growing up during the 90s and early 2000s. I Saw the TV Glow plays on this nostalgia to thrilling effect throughout, but the film takes a sinister turn when the question of  The Pink Opaque‘s reality arises.  As Maddie and Owen grow up, the show is no longer a source of enjoyment, and instead it morphs into a false reality. Or is it an actual reality? It depends on your read.

And there are several ways to read TV Glow. It can be interpreted as a simple, stripped-back story of two friends trying to escape their miserable lives by disappearing into a fantasy world. But the added science fiction / supernatural elements could suggest that maybe, just maybe, Maddie and Owen don't belong in this world and are living lives that aren't their own. The film has been framed as being an allegory for being transgender and this fits well within the narrative but is easier to understand if grounded in the real world and stepping away from any fantasy. The fantastical elements we see illustrate how and what a character is feeling but make the idea that this is all fake, at least for Maddie and Owen, less likely.

Where TV Glow falls short is in its pacing and, in parts, the narrative. Whilst moments of horror jolt you out of your slumber, there's not quite enough to alter the dreary atmosphere. There are a few plot holes that are never addressed and despite the voiceovers and fourth wall breaks, a lot of the story is left up to interpretation. The ideas shared are far more interesting than the two leads and how they carry the story, but despite its slow pace and lack of any clear joy, it remains just as transfixing as the fictional Pink Opaque. Seeing I Saw the TV Glow may require an open mind and a willingness to believe.

I Saw the TV Glow screened at