TP:FWWM is a prequel to the two-season Twin Peaks saga, and (sort of) answers the question 'how and why did Laura Palmer die?'. Fans of the show mostly knew the answers before they saw this film, but to see Laura's life so vividly realized, and to see the TV characters cast into such a different, more harsh, surreal and disturbing light, really invigorates the entire TP phenomenon. FWWM actually inspired me to watch the entire series again (and as of 2004, I am in the process of watching it again). Fans of the series who found themselves disappointed by the final few episodes of the series because they felt it became too bizarre, are likely to find this film more gripping, though they will probably end up as unsatisfied as they were at the onset. Those who found the second season thrillingly experimental are likely to be surprised by the subtlety of and dramatic quality of this film. Those, like me, who approach the film with few tangible expectations might just find themselves, compelled, disturbed, and very entertained.
The performances are generally very good, but not entirely even. Some TV cast-members, given the vastly expanded possibilities of cinema, really showed their range and depth. Sheryl Lee, MacLachlan, Dana Ashbrook, and Ray Wise were especially impressive. The cinematography is less powerful than the usual Lynchian vision (see Eraserhead, Lost Highway for extreme examples), and is more in keeping with the TV show's straightforward, but moody, photographic approach. The overall production values are, in fact, comparable to those of Mulholland Drive - also originally planned by Lynch as a TV show. Though more subtle than many of Lynch's more extravagant works, TP:FWWM is very successfully manipulative and powerful.
I ardently appreciate Lynch, considering him one of cinema and performance's greatest contemporary artists. And I am unashamed to state that I believe this to be among his finest works. Many of Lynch's fans love to write interpretations of Lynch himself, as if all of his films are in some way connected beyond the obvious fact that he directed (and more often than not scripted) them. I do not disagree with this approach, but, in my opinion, any such universalizing comments more or less miss the point. Lynch is one of many director's who view film as an art form, not as a craft, nor as a vehicle for specific messages and stories. As Lynch has stated, repeatedly, his films involve a dream-like reality and often attempt to invoke a dream or nightmare state in viewers. Unlike most, however, Lynch succeeds in the purity of his art. His films demand interpretation, engagement and, what's more, demand a different and unique interpretation by most who view them.
If you are looking for something which can be universally interpreted from TP:FWWM as part of this imagined set of Lynchian themes, I am not the reviewer to give it, look elsewhere. I have too much respect for Lynch's artistry to subject him to my own interpretive explanations.
If you are looking for a simple story which will clear up the insanity of Twin Peaks, don't bother with FWWM.
If you are looking, open-mindedly, for an intense, disturbing, and well constructed cinematic experience which creates more questions than it answers, and retains elements of mystery in a fatalistically driven plot environment, you've come to the right place.