dir. Seth MacFarlane
Release Date: Jun 29, 12
Ted will easily go down as one of 2012’s strangest comedies, an amalgamation of early Spielberg (yes, seriously), all of Seth MacFarlane’s television projects and the sort of tonally inconsistent filmmaking that’s become Adam Sandler’s bread and butter in recent years. It’s both exactly what you’d expect from MacFarlane, whose Family Guy somehow continues to quietly stand as TV’s most consistently offensive show, and a surprisingly well-done film at points, a filthy comedy that actually knows how to parse out its shock tactics (to a point) for genuine hilarity.
When John (Mark Wahlberg) was a child, he was wildly lonely and wished for just one best friend that he could have in his life for all time. One Christmas, this wish came true in the form of Ted (MacFarlane), a huge teddy bear (almost the size of nine-year-old John) who came to life and became John’s very best friend. Unfortunately, age proved kind to neither of them; Ted, after briefly becoming a precocious star on the talk show circuit, was discarded by the masses. (Patrick Stewart, in hilarious narration, compares him to Corey Feldman.) John, meanwhile, is now 35 and, despite the gentle but increasingly impatient urgings of his girlfriend Lori (Mila Kunis), unwilling to cut ties with Ted or grow up. Faced with the choice between Lori and a life of smoking absurd amounts of weed and watching Flash Gordon ad nauseum, John and Ted’s relationship starts to get complicated.
Given the deterioration of Family Guy over the years, people forget that MacFarlane is actually an adept comic mind when he actually tries. (To be fair, he’s expressed his contempt for that show in the past, and American Dad, while not nearly as ubiquitous, shows off his talents a bit better.) Ted’s best moments come when MacFarlane’s better tendencies as a comedian emerge, such as a scene in which John tries to guess the name of Ted’s new “trailer trash” workplace crush via a “speed round” in which Wahlberg rattles off dozens of female names without a breath. Those delayed laughs, which rely on the comic rule of infinity (goes on so long the laugh gets lost, only to go even longer until it returns again) are well-used, as is his penchant for inappropriately enraged reaction shots.
MacFarlane is also helped by a pair of all-in leads, especially Kunis, who’s taken unnecessary punishment by Family Guy’s writing staff for years doing the voice of Meg, and here does a lot with a really undercooked role, selling that Lori has put up with John and Ted’s arrested development for four years and genuinely loves John enough to not worry about it. Wahlberg, who’s long been one of Hollywood’s truly unsung actors when we’re not counting The Happening, goes even further, maintaining a rapport with Ted that at a few points is genuinely moving. Wahlberg (and MacFarlane, in voice) create a relationship that feels truly lived-in, and unlike many of the glut of filmic bromances in recent years, you actually start to care about whether John and Ted will be able to reconcile adulthood and the latter’s penchant for hard partying with their friendship. When the film inevitably descends into tender breakups and makeups (augmented by a terribly ill-conceived kidnapping sequence that at least lets Giovanni Ribisi do some fun character acting), MacFarlane’s script is strong enough to keep this investment alive.
However, this being a MacFarlane production, some of his nastier tendencies plague Ted, and ultimately stop it from ever becoming the great comedy that’s not as far out of reach as one might think. His yen for casual one-liners about rape and pedophilia feel even more tone-deaf here, if anything, because of the film having a sweetness to it that his comedies normally don’t. That, coupled with Ted’s voracious sexual appetite and seeming utter contempt for every woman he meets (including his foulmouthed Boston broad of a girlfriend), underscores every attempt on the film’s part to get at genuine sentimentality. This throws off the movie’s sense of tone, as does the aforementioned big finale, which includes both a car chase and a setpiece inside Fenway Park that absolutely sucks the momentum out of the film. Were the film more concerned for its entire running time with the relationship with John and Ted, which is its true strong point, Ted might have become an even better film. Instead, it ends up settling for the status of not being all that bad for an R-rated movie about a talking teddy bear.
(A final note: If nothing else, Ted is a sterling example of how to correctly pull off a celebrity cameo, with not one but two unexpected appearances knocking it out of the park.)