I Saw The TV Glow review — Love those melancholy misfits

Written and Directed by Jane Schoenbrun | 100 min | ▲▲▲▲△ | In Cinemas 

Once again, A24 brings something to the big screen unlike anything that’s at the multiplex right now or has been in recent years. I Saw The TV Glow is a deeply weird mood piece, an ode to ’90s cable culture on the cusp of the internet. Even more broadly it centres characters out of step with the mainstream, an analogy for the queer experience. Othering in America.

It’s 1996 and Owen (Ian Foreman at first, then Justice Smith later) is an introverted, deeply self-conscious suburban teen. His mother (Danielle Deadwyler) is caring, his father (Fred Durst, who did it for the nookie) distant and unpleasant. At school he keeps to himself. On TV he’s seen the ads for a show he’d like to watch called The Pink Opaque. He’s pink-curious.

At school he sees a classmate, Maddy (Brigette Lundy-Paine), a couple years older, reading the show’s episode guide. They bond over this program, with Maddy serving as an enabler, inviting Owen over to watch — his father won’t let him stay up late enough, 10:30pm on a Saturday night.

For Maddy, the show is practically a belief system. She says it feels more real than reality. It inspires her to leave home, and she wants Owen to come along, but he’s afraid of taking a leap.

None of this plotting or character work is especially groundbreaking — it has the familiar tang of a coming-of-age tale, two lonely spirits connecting in an unforgiving milieu. But the regular suggestion of the supernatural, the show imagery bleeding into their siloed world, the ’90s production values, the underlying gothic horror and clown imagery,  the melancholy in the score and soundtrack, and the undeniable 2SLGBTQ+ themes, that’s the stuff that’s especially effective. This is a film that insinuates.

Schoenbrun is clearly a fan of the era shows, like Are You Afraid Of The Dark, Goosebumps and especially Buffy The Vampire Slayer — a cameo from Amber Benson isn’t accidental. The Pink Opaque features two girls with psychic powers who keep their distance from each other, both battling a monster of the week controlled by the Big Bad. Sounds familiar.

The film isn’t satisfied with nostalgia. It’s a vibe, surreal and dreamlike. ISTTVG is happy to offer moments of genuine creep, plucking strings of universal childhood anxiety while offering up the warm embrace of fantasy worlds.

That embrace may not be entirely welcome: it’s critical of anyone who may lack the courage of their convictions, how your fear of the unknown can lock you in, an escapism is a dead end if you have no capacity to accept your real self. More than once characters talk about time passing quickly, with death the only constant.

I won’t pretend the film’s messaging was completely coherent, but the feelings of both a familiar comfort and unease it evoked? Those contrasting sensations are likely to stay with me for days.

About the author

flawintheiris

Carsten Knox is a massive, cheese-eating nerd. In the day he works as a journalist in Halifax, Nova Scotia. At night he stares out at the rain-slick streets, watches movies, and writes about what he's seeing.

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