Honoring the cinematic legacy of the 1990s

SpringFest 2024 presents In a Violent Nature, The Idea of You, and I Saw the TV Glow

4 minute read
Title and promo quotes appear in neon light-purple over a dark field, with a person silhouetted against a static-filled TV

The Philadelphia Film Society held its annual SpringFest festival over the weekend (from April 12 to 14, 2024). The festival has traditionally featured films from Sundance and other film festivals from the early part of the year, and this year was no different. The 2024 fest featured 10 movies, and while they came from all sorts of genres and parts of the world, three of the most prominent ones had something in common: an appreciation for the cinematic legacy of the 1990s.

In a Violent Nature

That was certainly the case for In a Violent Nature, a Canadian horror film from Chris Nash. The film is an homage to past movies with a singular madman, most notably the Friday the 13th series, with one key difference: the film mainly follows the killer’s point of view as he disembowels a succession of victims; we only see his face briefly.

There’s one scene, though, that pays fantastic tribute to the cinema of the 1990s as a group of young people on a cabin trip together sit around the campfire and exchange banter that has nothing to do with the plot of the movie and the camera swings around them like in the opening diner scene in Reservoir Dogs. It feels like 1994 again, at least until one character whips out a cell phone, someone else mentions “toxic masculinity,” and we know it’s the present day.

The film mixes in grisly kills with a couple of different scenes of exposition to provide a possible explanation of the killer and where he came from. The ending is a letdown, but overall, I admired the creativity of the endeavor.

It’s unclear what the release plans are for In a Violent Nature.

The Idea of You

Saturday at the festival brought The Idea of You, a romantic comedy that combines the plots of two popular movies from the 1990s: 1998’s How Stella Got Her Groove Back (except it’s about white people) and 1999’s Notting Hill (except that the genders are reversed).

Directed by The Big Sick’s Michael Showalter, who co-wrote with Jennifer Westfeldt, The Idea of You is based on a novel by Robinne Lee, who was herself reportedly inspired by One Direction’s Harry Styles, and his penchant for dating older women.

Solène (Anne Hathaway) is a 40-year-old woman, freshly divorced, who owns a Silver Lake art gallery. Through a misunderstanding at Coachella, she meets 24-year-old boy band star Hayes Campbell (Nicholas Galitzine, from the 2023 film Bottoms and Amazon’s Red, White & Royal Blue), and the two end up in a romance.

This has the usual complications, from their age gap to their fame gap to the part where Solene’s teenage daughter was really into Hayes’s band when she was in 7th grade (now she’s in 11th).

The Idea of You feels particularly inspired by the work of Nancy Meyers, although Showalter doesn’t appear nearly as interested in sumptuous home decor. Nevertheless, the film primarily works for a simple reason: Hathaway is exceptionally great at romcoms, even if she hadn’t made one in a while.

The audience at SpringFest loved this film, and it was a true crowd-pleaser. So naturally, it’s going straight to Prime Video on Friday, May 3.

I Saw the TV Glow

The final film of the festival, and the “main event” as it were, was Jane Schoenbrun’s I Saw the TV Glow, a Sundance sensation that drew the festival’s largest crowd, programmer Trey Shields said from the stage. And it’s the most 1990s-centric film of them all.

This is a film with a striking visual palette, fantastic music, a pair of breakthrough performances, and things to say about a wide variety of subjects, from sexual identity to how people engage with the popular culture of their youth. My only quibbles are that the film doesn’t quite pull it all together and ends somewhat abruptly.

Schoenbrun wowed the pandemic-era Sundance of 2021 with their feature debut We're All Going to the World's Fair, a very creative horror film that riffed on internet culture and The Ring-style movies. I Saw the TV Glow is their follow-up, which applies a similar lens to 1990s television.

Owen (Justice Smith) and Maddy (Brigette Lundy-Paine) are high-school misfits, both queer, and they’re obsessed with an era-specific TV show called The Pink Opaque. Reproduced in perfect period detail, the show is a cross of The X-Files, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and Twin Peaks.

The narrative jumps forward from the 1990s to the present, featuring gorgeous shot compositions and other amazing visuals. The music was composed by the local musician Alex G.

This is a film that will occasion much study, with certain lines and shots likely taking on new meaning upon multiple viewings. It’s also one that I can’t wait to start discussing with people.

I Saw the TV Glow has a release date of Friday, May 3, although it’s not exactly clear when it will land in Philadelphia theaters.

At top: a poster for I Saw the TV Glow. (Image courtesy of A24.)

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