Two teenagers stare forward in a dark room.

Sundance Film Review: I Saw The TV Glow

Film Reviews

Sundance Film Review: I Saw the TV Glow
Director: Jane Schoenbrun

Premiere: 01.18

To see yourself in a story or a character is a powerful feeling, especially when you see very little of yourself in yourself. That power is the driving, heart-hollowingly beautiful and all-consuming force at play in director Jane Schoenbrun’s second film I Saw the TV Glow, which premiered as part of Sundance’s Midnight Selection on January 18.

I Saw the TV Glow is funnier and warmer than Scheonbrun’s debut We’re All Going to the World’s Fair, but it’s also more frightening and disturbing. It’s the story of two teens, Owen (Justice Smith, Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves) and Maddy (Bridgette Lundy-Paine, Atypical), whose lives and identities become absorbed in obsession with a Buffy-style monster-of-the-week TV series. Smith and Lundy-Paine both deliver performances that range from whispering dread to enchanting explosiveness. I’ve seen and liked the two actors in other things before, but for both of them this feels like something big—a true arrival. 

Schoenbrun makes use of more classical cinematic language than they did in World’s Fair, where the lead character is seen largely through static webcam footage. Where that film feels like an eerie and invasive window into a private life, I Saw the TV Glow looks kaleidoscopically into a life that could be. The shocking usage of glowing color from World’s Fair has blossomed into something more evocative of vivid ‘90s graphic design. Chalk lines on pavement glow like neon, and windows are lit up with color to create emotionally vibrant tableaus. 

If you’re cliché or uninteresting enough to have misidentified Schoenbrun’s first film as a possible fluke success from a young talent on a micro-budget, you’ll be roundly and justly shamed to learn that I Saw the TV Glow establishes them as a genuine, generational stylistic and thematic voice. It’s reminiscent of something like Wes Anderson’s already-present style crystallizing and blasting off in his second feature. I’m not necessarily saying I Saw the TV Glow is the new Rushmore, but, well, wouldn’t you want to see the new Rushmore

Schoenbrun, a transgender filmmaker, introduced the film by prefacing how it stretches and compresses time, a phenomenon they say is central to the trans experience. It’s commonly observed that one’s fondest moments rush past at high velocity, while boredom and misery stretch time to infinity. Jane Schoenbrun shows us the heartbreaking truth of how rapidly time passes when you’re certain that you’re wasting it. —Daniel Kirkham

Read more of SLUG‘s comprehensive coverage of the 2024 Sundance Film Festival.