Movie Review: Ted
By Matthew Huntley
July 9, 2012
“It’s funny because it’s a teddy bear.” That’s what I figured the pitch session must have been like for Ted, a raunchy comedy about a boy, er man, and his teddy bear that’s magically come to life, aptly named Ted. I envisioned director, co-writer and star Seth MacFarlane (famous for “Family Guy”) first selling the idea to studio executives by asking them to picture a depraved character who speaks with a potty mouth, smokes marijuana, snorts cocaine, drinks beer and uses various produce to have sex with women…and then imagine it’s a stuffed teddy bear. I was afraid the movie’s humor would hinge on that last point.
I’m happy to stand corrected. Ted (voiced by MacFarlane) may be a toy bear, but that’s something the movie gets over faster than we do. After a few scenes where we see Ted living his day-to-day life as the ne'er-do-well best friend of a 35-year-old man, we view him less as a bear and more as a fully realized character with attitude and a distinct personality, whom we actually grow to care about. Luckily, the movie takes it upon itself not to ride the talking stuffed animal bit for too long and proves it’s funny for other reasons.
One of the best decisions MacFarlane makes is not making Ted a secret that John (Mark Wahlberg), his best friend since coming to life, has to keep hidden. On the contrary, after that one special Christmas in 1985 when an eight-year-old John wished Ted alive, he immediately tells his parents and pretty soon the bear is an international sensation. “It’s a miracle,” John’s mom says, “just like the baby Jesus!” Ted graces the covers of magazines and guest stars on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson. The world comes to accept Ted as a wonder of nature and I was grateful the movie didn’t make us endure another one of those tired scenes where John must keep Ted hidden from unsuspecting people who might freak out at the idea of a talking bear. Instead, Ted becomes yesterday’s news and is viewed more as a former child star, something the bear openly admits. “I’m like a cast member from ‘Diff’rent Strokes’ - the living ones anyway.”
But even as John crosses over into his late 30s, he and Ted remain the best of friends - still sitting around like a couple of lazy bums getting high, eating cereal right out of the box and watching Flash Gordon over and over again. But after an unpleasant incident involving a hooker and human feces, John’s live-in girlfriend, Lori (Mila Kunis), who’s been more than tolerating, asks John to kick Ted out. John and Lori have been dating for four years and she thinks it’s time they take their relationship to the next level. She needs a man, not a boy who still snuggles with his bear every time there’s a thunderstorm. John finds it’s not so easy to say goodbye to your best friend, though, let alone grow up.
But if he has any hope of keeping Lori, John is going to have to try. He helps Ted find a job at the local grocery store, which is the last place Ted wants to be, so he attempts to blow the interview by making cracks about the manager’s wife, which only gets him hired faster. He then gets his own place in a seedy part of Boston and consistently tempts John to blow off work and Lori, perhaps subconsciously, so they can stay best friends forever. On the side, he begins dating his ditzy co-worker named Tami-Lynn (Jessica Barth) while trying his best to avoid a disturbing father and son (Giovanni Ribisi and Aedin Mincks) who ask if they can buy him.
In a moderately amusing, although ultimately unnecessary, subplot, Lori tries to shove off the sexual advances of her sleazy boss (Joel McHale), a character whose sole purpose, it seems, is only to give John another excuse to screw things up when he ditches a party to meet one of his childhood heroes.
Even with all its vulgarity, lewdness and vile humor, which are collectively quite funny, Ted (and Ted) still manages to have a big heart. Yes, it’s insensitive, perverted and politically incorrect, but it’s not mean, and unlike “Family Guy,” which is not loved by me, it has focus. Whereas Macfarlane’s show seems to take aim at anything and everything, the humor in Ted is sharper, broader and more pointed. And the actors, who manage to keep a straight face in spite of what they’re asked to do, aren’t just there to provide star wattage; they actually fulfill roles, and well. Wahlberg is likable as the owl-eyed John stuck in a state of arrested development, and Kunis nicely balances John out with beauty and intelligence and the two have a believable chemistry, which is really all we ask of them.
Something should also be said of the special effects, which are flawless. There wasn’t a single moment in the movie when I wasn’t convinced there was an actual living, talking, walking teddy bear on-screen, which the actors converse and interact with seamlessly. The look, movement and tangibility of Ted are uncanny, and in spite of its bawdy nature, the movie shouldn’t be overlooked for its technical achievements come Oscar time. They are that good.
Ted will likely catch a lot of people off-guard. Given its premise, it’s not supposed to work, but somehow MacFarlane finds a way. He gives us a bold, irreverent comedy that not only delivers laughs but, believe it or not, emotion. How do I know? Let’s just say when part of Ted is ripped apart, I wasn’t laughing, but rather feeling…for Ted, for John. I wasn’t expecting such reactions going in.