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I Saw the TV Glow (2024) Review

Jane Schoenbrun’s latest psychological horror-drama is one of those movies that’s impossible to describe. ‘Two friends deal with the everyday terrors of the suburbs while coping with their favorite TV show being cancelled’ doesn’t do justice to the emotional, often surreal tapestry the young director was able to fit into their sophomore outing. Owen and Maddy’s friendship is so much more than a safe space for them to watch weird TV shows in peace; it gives them a space to explore queerness and build a sense of community that might just be enough to help them survive a world of violent homophobia. Every bit as visually stunning as the trailer promises, filled with performances that are as nuanced as they are committed with one of the best soundtracks I’ve heard in years, this is perhaps the most well-done cinematic event 2024 has yet to offer.

       Some interesting and important context for those who are familiar with Schoenbrun’s debut, We Are All Going to the World’s Fair (2021), is that it was made before they confronted their gender dysphoria. Connecting an artist’s life to their work is a slippery slope, but those ideas around belonging, the self and familial relations ring with an emotional honesty that’s further developed in this follow-up as one protagonist begins to feel like they’re trapped in the wrong body. These trans undertones are central to how the movie develops character and themes; but it’s ultimately a movie about the universal experience of how terrible it is to feel like you can’t be yourself, a point driven home by the apocalyptic finale. This is clearly a very personal movie by Schoenbrun, bursting with an intimacy that shapes the visual language.  

            No other movie I’ve seen this year uses lighting the way this one does. Eschewing any kind of realism or naturalism, Eric K. Yue’s cinematography washes the frame in pinks, blues and purples, creating a tone that’s both intimate yet wildly expansive. It feels as if we’re experiencing these fears and insecurities alongside the characters, thereby making us more invested in their journeys. Don’t think this movie’s all doom and gloom either; Sofi Marshall’s editing inserts a ton of humor with certain cuts, revealing Shoenbrun’s impeccable ability to switch tones at a moment’s notice. All this visual splendor takes place against one of the best soundtracks I’ve ever heard. I walked out the theater and immediately pre-ordered the vinyl; the needle drops here aren’t just fantastic to experience via a theatrical sound system, but feel so relevant to the characters’ interior journeys. This is doubly true for the synth and guitar-led soundscapes of Alex G’s score. But as good as these technical aspects are—and they’re very good—they would feel empty if the acting wasn’t just as developed.

            Justice Smith was the perfect choice for Owen’s character. He’s always able to create so much vulnerability in each role he plays, almost buzzing with anxious energy as his character stumbles through a hostile world. There’s a ton of commitment here, so much that it doesn’t even really feel like acting, and I really appreciate when an actor’s able to embody their humanity so tenderly. It’s a character that’s balanced beautifully by Brigette Lundy-Paine’s depiction of Maddy, who seems much more self-assured, much more willing to fight back against society’s expectations. While Lundy-Paine shows a much wider emotional range than Smith, I think both do a fantastic job of crafting characters that feel real and lived-in. With June less than a month away, it’s fair to say I Saw the TV Glow has won the first half of the year in my book. It hits theaters this weekend, and you absolutely must watch it.


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