Seth MacFarlane’s directorial debut balances his trademark offensiveness with sentimentality, but Ted’s weak plot and lack of originality leave it feeling flat, tired and stale. (7/10)
While I can’t name you another movie featuring a potty-mouthed teddy bear, the summary could just as easily have read as “You, Me and Dupree, but with a talking teddy instead of Owen Wilson” which is all the more damning given that You, Me and Dupree was hardly original itself. It’s long been said that there are no new stories, just old ones with different words; Ted’s primary shortcoming isn’t failing to come up with a new story, but rather telling that story with some rather poorly chosen words. The root of the problem probably lies in MacFarlane’s television background. In Family Guy or American Dad, he has never had to deal with a story more complex than one that could be resolved within half an hour, at most. As a result, the plot here never fully gets going and the film’s climax is more likely to be met with indifference than excitement. However, Ted aims to amuse more than compel, and despite the aforementioned flaws, Ted is ultimately a relatively entertaining watch.
The plot commits the one unforgivable sin – it fails to make the audience care. In the beginning, it does everything right, especially in setting up the basic story elements. We meet John, a regular, perfectly likable guy, and Lori, his disproportionately attractive and understandably concerned girlfriend and of course Ted, the once famous, pot-smoking, foul-mouthed and all together inappropriate teddy bear, who happens to be Johnny’s best friend. Each character is amicable enough and as an audience we quickly form a superficial emotional connection with them. We want to see the inevitable conflict between Ted and Lori amicably resolved. The breaking point in John and Lori’s relationship should not have been the most dramatic moment of the movie; it should have been the catalyst for both friends to find some kind of workaround, in which all involved parties are happy. Perhaps it involves Ted maturing, or Johnny managing to balance the different aspects of his life better, or something else, but there definitely needs to be some amount of change and character development. There isn’t, unfortunately, and by the time the kidnapping subplot kicks in, neither has really grown. The movie ends with both characters just carrying on the way they were before the breakup – living separately but still involved in each others’ lives. The movie’s general tone and levity meant that there was no drama or suspense involved in the action sequence either, which coupled with the lack of character development, renders that entire sequence rather meaningless. What hurts most is what could have been: we could have seen Ted’s unique way of handling himself in a world without his final pillar of support or we could have seen Ted and John mature side by side. both options would have made the story at least slightly more compelling.
However, for all that criticism,Ted is primarily a comedy, and it does not fail to deliver on that count. There are plenty of laughs to be found, but broadly speaking, the humor falls into three basic categories – jokes that are funny regardless of who says them, jokes that are funny only because of Ted and jokes that are just not funny. Thankfully, the last are few and far between and there is something to be said for the absurdist humor that the second category takes advantage of. MacFarlane has an inclination towards non-sequiturs and out-of-context jokes, which work fine on Family Guy where the animation can establish a context relatively quickly, but seem scattered and unfocused on the big screen. They are still amusing enough in isolation though. MacFarlane’s comedic sensibilities are themselves predictable enough; crude, deliberately offensive and often scatological, but occasionally a little more refined, if obscure. While the abundance of pop-culture references and pot-shots at celebrities will make the humor easily accessible even to those members of the audience that don’t follow Us Weekly religiously, it’s safe to say that there will certainly be some who will tire of MacFarlane’s attempts at being vulgar and misogynistic instead of being funny.
Of course, the humor is equal parts content and delivery. Wahlberg plays the genial, happy-go-lucky John, a role which might first appear to be relatively simple for an actor with Wahlberg’s credentials but delivering all those lines and emotions when your ‘co-star’ is a stick is more challenging than it sounds. Wahlberg is completely convincing as a rather unremarkable everyman with excellent comic timing. His Boston heritage is obvious from the authenticity of his accent, especially alongside MacFarlane’s more pronounced bray. The latter’s own gift for comedy is in evidence as well, his voice matching the expressiveness of Ted’s CG animation. This isn’t Mila Kunis’ most meaty role but she does all that she’s expected to here; look (extremely) attractive and work her natural on-screen charisma. It really is a shame that Kunis suffers from a fate that most actresses in Hollywood share – all the best lines go to the guys. She has a couple of almost, semi-amusing moments, but for the most part, Wahlberg and MacFarlane draw most of the laughs. The casting of Joel McHale as Kunis’ boss Rex was a little baffling to me since his presence, or indeed the character’s existence, doesn’t add much to the movie. Wahlberg seemed to have great chemistry with the stick that was supposed to represent his co-star; most of the jokes that worked at all, did because of the quick back and forth between the two.
Ted is clearly not with its flaws but at heart is just a simple story of a coming of age that has been delayed for far too long. With an attractive cast and punchlines that work better than its storyline, it is acceptable fare, especially for a directorial debut. It’s won’t go down as an all-time classic anytime soon, but it has just the right balance of crude humor and genuinely touching moments to work.
Mark Wahlberg – John
Mila Kunis – Lori
Seth MacFarlane – Ted (Voice)
Joel McHale – Rex
Giovanni Ribisi – Donny
Jessica Barth – Tami-Lyn