There's An Alternate Timeline In Which David Lynch Directed Fast Times At Ridgemont High

It's hard to believe "Fast Times at Ridgemont High" has continued to stand as one of the great teen comedies for over 40 years now, boasting a smorgasbord of career-launching performances such as Jennifer Jason Leigh ("The Hateful Eight"), Forest Whitaker ("The Last King of Scotland"), Judge Reinhold ("Beverly Hills Cop"), Phoebe Cates ("Gremlins"), and Sean Penn ("Mystic River"). The one-two punch of director Amy Heckerling ("Clueless") and screenwriter Cameron Crowe ("Almost Famous"), having adapted his novel of the same name, gives this exploration of high schoolers navigating the big wide world of drugs, concert tickets, wild hormones and eating pizza in the classroom a hilarious and potent punch.

In many ways, "Fast Times" serves as a fascinating time capsule that feels fully entrenched in the transformative structure of the '80s, while somehow feeling more nuanced than some comedies made in the present era. I can't tell you how bizarre it feels to watch a comedy from over four decades ago tackle an abortion subplot truthfully, and most importantly, empathetically, all while our current predicament seems intent on setting back reproductive rights even further.

With that kind of wit and maturity cruising the halls of "Ridgemont High," it's difficult to imagine anyone but Heckerling at the helm, but there was one name in the running who probably would have turned the high school comedy on its head.

Lynch was flattered, but teen comedies didn't really interest him

According to Variety's retrospective on the film, when it came time to court a director for "Fast Times," Thom Mount, a Universal executive at the time, had considered none other than David Lynch ("Blue Velvet") to helm the project. Crowe ended up having a meeting with Lynch at Universal where the surrealist filmmaker respectfully declined:

"He had a very wry smile on his face as I sat talking with him [...] He went and read it. We met again. He was very, very sweet about it, but slightly perplexed we thought of him. He said this was a really nice story but 'it's not really the kind of thing that I do, but good luck.'"

Even Heckerling had no idea Lynch was offered the project at one point. A high school comedy is the last thing I could have seen in Lynch's filmography, but when you look at his success at the time, I can see why it was offered to him. It follows in the age-old tradition of taking a filmmaker who has proven themselves with smaller projects of their own and thrusting them into the studio limelight. The haunting "Eraserhead" had left a noticeable impression on the indie scene, and "The Elephant Man" acquired a bevy of Oscar nominations. This formula goes back to when George Lucas had offered Lynch a chance to direct "Return of the Jedi" but ultimately turned him down because he didn't feel like it would be a good fit. Lynch eventually did work with Universal on a massive studio film, but the chaos of making "Dune" ensured he would never put himself through that again. 

Lynch is no stranger to comedy

Even though Lynch declined to direct one of the defining comedies of the '80s, that doesn't mean he's never involved himself in comedic projects. Lynch has always managed to infuse a great deal of comedy into even his darkest work. One that immediately comes to mind is that moment in "The Return" where Ike "The Spike" (Christophe Zajac-Denek) looks down at his bent and bloodied spike with the heartbreaking disappointment of a child that just broke their favorite toy, after having just committed a string of horrifying murders.

As for strictly comedic projects, the "Lost Highway" filmmaker has been involved in all sorts. He co-created the very short-lived series "On the Air" with "Twin Peaks" co-creator Mark Frost. An episode of "Family Guy" feature a small voice cameo from Lynch as the Griffin clan watches "How David Lynch Stole Christmas," and he had a supporting role on "The Cleveland Show" as Gus the Bartender. There's also his guest appearance on "Louie" as a straight-to-the-point television executive. Lynch's delivery is still hilarious, and now you have the added catharsis of watching him berate creeper Louis C.K. with "let's see the funny."

What would Lynch's Fast Times even look like?

So the question remains: what would Lynch's "Fast Times" even look like? I can't see it happening, at least not in the same straightforward presentation the film is currently in. When asked by Charlie Rose whether he would like to do comedy, Lynch said he would, albeit in a manner that would suit his style of filmmaking. "I'm very interested in a humor that can sit next door to horror or fear or something more serious," Lynch said. "The hardest thing to do is a comedy."

It's hard to imagine anyone but Ray Walston ("My Favorite Martian") sparring off against Penn's slacker Spicoli, but I'd be lying if I said I couldn't see Lynch fitting into the role of Mr. Hand like a glove (hehe). Whether he's playing Gordon Cole or a no-nonsense TV executive, Lynch is just a naturally funny presence no matter what's he doing.

He may not have gotten a chance to interact with the teen comedy beyond driving his VW to the Universal lot, but Lynch would eventually work with a few "Fast Times" alums in other projects such as Jennifer Jason Leigh in "Twin Peaks: The Return" and Nicolas Cage in "Wild at Heart."

"Fast Times at Ridgemont High" is currently streaming on Peacock.