Seth MacFarlane’s directorial debut Ted might seem at first glance like the kind of gross-out comedy he’s has been wanting to direct for years and if you assumed that, then you would be correct, and I could stop writing this review and we could all go home. Well, that was easy, wasn’t it? Let me just write 800 more words in real quick so we can get out of here…
Ted is an odd duck of a movie: it comes across initially as a 90 minute “Family Guy” episode and it wouldn’t need to try any harder if it wanted to succeed – there’s already a massive audience for that – so why try harder? MacFarlane doesn’t stop there though. He mines the bizarro-world-Boston for all its worth, creating a cartoony pastiche that seems more real than 2/3rds of major studio comedies released this year or most any other, for that matter. Seth MacFarlane has a 100% specific niche, that’s for sure, and within that niche “Ted” is very good piece of work. The movie is absolutely not for everyone.
Where Ted lacks in subtlety, it overcompensates in what could best be described as community-theater emotion: both leads (Mark Wahlberg and Mila Kunis) leave any classical theater training they might have had at the door and both dive headfirst into a script that encourages both to play to the back seats – Wahlberg’s Bostonian accent in par-tic-you-lah is a puh-sonal highlight of tha moo-vie. He knows eggs-ah-ctlee how meh-ny vowels there ah in a woid and makes tha dial-log seem wicked believable, even if a fah-rce to act-you-all Bostonian speech.
Kunis plays his longtime girlfriend and her performance could be best described as incredibly patient – whether this was MacFarlane’s intention or not, she clearly is the voice of reason in the movie and the character that most audience members will identify with. The real winner in the movie is the titular namesake, a CGI bear named Ted voiced by MacFarlane. In the spirit of many of MacFarlane’s characters, Ted is a brash, obnoxious and seemingly sophomoric character with a massive emotional underpinning. The core of Ted owes a lot to familiar sitcom archetypes like “All In The Family”‘s Archie Bunker and “The Honeymooners”‘s Ralph Kramden: in another world, or perhaps if network TV was more open, one could very well perhaps see a (toned down) version of Ted in an 8 p.m. time slot on a major network, barking light insults to his TV family but winking at the camera because he knows he’s going to hug the shit out of them before the credits roll.
Where Kunis portrays the audience’s worldly thoughts, Ted represents the audience’s id. This is perhaps why, in the screening that I attended at least, the majority of the audience gasped during a scene early on where Ted drives Wahlberg’s character to work while kind-of high. They also gasped towards the end of the movie, during a particularly climactic scene that I don’t want to spoil. Let’s just say that Ted seems to get under people’s skin in a way that many wouldn’t expect a CGI teddy bear to. He is, after all, that link to childhood and adolescence: the dick, cum, and fart jokes only seem to cement that bond between a man and his youthful days. What person can honestly say that they want that to go away for good?
Family is a major theme in MacFarlane’s work. From the more obvious familial overtones of “Family Guy” (it’s in the name, duh) to “American Dad” (another family unit) to the (harrowingly unfunny) “The Cleveland Show,” MacFarlane knows that the biggest laughs are the ones that hit closest to home… both figuratively and literally. Ted eschews the family setting for something a little more contemporary, and this is perhaps MacFarlane’s most interesting achievement.
While “Ted” doesn’t have a family unit as such, it does draw upon the loneliness of childhood and the reluctance of one to finally take those last steps into adulthood. Both (the character of) Ted and Wahlberg spend the majority of the first half of the movie smoking weed on a couch and shooting the shit – a familiar setting to anyone who makes under $40K a year and “needs to apply (themselves),” surely. Yet the conversations aren’t nearly as slapstick-y as they should be: the conversations on the couch between Wahlberg and the CGI bear are some of the most unintentionally honest depictions of old, college-y stoner friends seen in movies since Bill Murray and John Candy in 1981′s “Stripes.” MacFarlane made the dialogue between a man and a CGI bear seem paced, believable, and above all, weirdly honest.
Underneath the jokes about Bostonian women’s orgasms (“DO ME HAH-DAH!”), marijuana, 9/11, and child molestation, MacFarlane has written an undercurrent of longing to be in both places at once – to grow up, get the girl, and be a good adult – and to stay with one’s friends on the couch shooting the shit as if real life just happened to everyone else. “Ted” truly is about the balance between these two worlds. Whether MacFarlane meant to highlight this as the emotional core of the movie or not isn’t for me to say, but like so many other things in life, it is about the balance and the compromise between who you are in the adult world and the idealism that you had as a child in your own world.