DatesOpens Jun 29
The first shot in Seth MacFarlane’s first feature film, Ted, sends us careening through Universal Studios’ famous globe logo straight for a snow-covered town outside Boston. It’s the movie’s most effective metaphor: Ted is a film that has crash-landed in New England vernacular, drenched with the kind of combative, instigating, boundary-pushing comic jabs that fuel the rabble-rousing banter of Irish boys from Newton in the bahs of Bah-stun.
MacFarlane’s movie is always trying to one-up itself, to find the most unexpected, jarring, or in-poor-taste thing to say. It revels in its raunchy cleverness, and it builds up a few moments of extreme hilarity by revving up comedic situations into complete, ridiculous mayhem. Ted is rude, brash, dirty, charming, and smug, the kind of movie where a sweet scene about love and friendship contains no shortage of offensive jabs about racial stereotypes and female genitalia. You need to like this style of humor to enjoy Ted. I just happen to think that, outside of England, there are fewer funnier people in the world than those jerkoffs from Boston.
MacFarlane’s film operates around a simple comedic conceit. In the opening scene, a lonely boy wishes for his toy teddy bear to come to life and be his best friend. Lo and behold, it does. But like those parlor games that re-imagine what would really happen in a cheesy children’s movie from the 1980s if the rules of the real world were at play, Ted takes its hypothetical fantasy and runs it through a realist ringer. The world is astounded that a teddy bear has actually come to life, and Ted becomes a minor celebrity. He is on every news channel; he appears on Carson. And yet he remains devoted to his best friend, John. And it’s a good thing, too. As the boy ages, the world forgets about Ted. Cut to the present day, and John (Mark Wahlberg) shares a couch with Ted (voiced by MacFarlane), the two watching Flash Gordon and sucking on a bong. Even for magical bears, reality eventually sets in.
Ted has also grown up, though he is still trapped in the body of a fuzzy plaything. Still, he’s a foul-mouthed, horny jerk, who loves a good party, refuses to work, and invites strippers to the apartment when John is out celebrating an anniversary with his girlfriend, Lori (Mila Kunis). While the trio, boy-girl-bear, have been shacking up blissfully for some time, it becomes clear that the situation is beginning to get out of hand. Lori wants John, a stoner rental car clerk, to grow up, take responsibility for his life, become an adult. The impediment is John’s fun-loving toy bear, which he clings to, a pot-smoking, porn-watching version of a security blanket. Get it?
There’s much about Ted that feels a little too obvious and half-baked. On a level, it plays like a conventional buddy movie about growing up, and best friends offering a crutch to the inevitable embrace of adult responsibility. From the look of today’s cinema marquee, it would seem that we could hardly live in an age more fearful of maturation, more infatuated with the blissful simplicity of childhood. Indeed, one of Ted’s more charming motifs is its incorporation of the playful kitsch of 1980s kid-dom (from Flash Gordon to Star Wars) to its jokes and visual style, parts of the film playing like intricate imitations (from soundtrack to camera angles) of the goofy kids flicks from the time of MacFarlane’s childhood.
But what Ted lacks in dramatic and thematic imagination, it makes up for in sheer ridiculousness. Much of the humor comes from the verbal sparring between John and the foul-mouthed bear. Then there are the gross sight gags, like when one of Ted’s strippers inexplicably defecates on the floor of the apartment and Lori is forced to pick it up, or when the manager of the grocery store where Ted is eventually forced to work finds him doing something with his tag to a large-breasted check-out girl on top of the fresh produce in the storage closet.
These jokes land intermittently, but Ted’s real highlight is its ability to stage a handful of scenes that build up a rapid fire layering of hyperbolic absurdity, escalating the laughs into suffocating, side-splitting relentlessness. To give you a taste, in what is perhaps Ted’s best 20 minutes, we begin at a stuffy party hosted by Lori’s creepy rich boss, who is trying to steal the hot item from the boyish John, and we end with the real-life Flash Gordon, Sam Jones, drilling a Asian cook in the face with his fist as a duck leaps on Ted, poking at the bear’s eyes with his beak. How the hell did we get here? There’s only one plausible explanation: via the genius, twisted mind of a New Englander.