It was inevitable, really, that Family Guy creator/star Seth MacFarlane would one day make his live-action feature film debut, and one could even say that he was bound to direct the damn thing himself. The only question would be whether his marketable comedic skills would translate into something as good, or at least watchable. Be warned that there are light plot spoilers below, but nothing much more than can be seen in the red-band trailer, which is what put this film on my docket of things to do. Trust me, if you like that trailer, the movie is exactly what you want it to be, and was maybe even more in my book.
Whatever you may think of Family Guy’s often mind-numbingly long Peter/Giant Chicken fights or charmingly awkward Conway Twitty cutaways, you shouldn’t let that deter you from Ted. There’s a lot to be admired, most notably the refreshingly original script and the actors who sell it, leaving little room for disbelief in such a silly concept. The rapid-fire humor, hand-selected from MacFarlane’s time-tested array of styles, keeps the plot moving and never lets you settle from at least an amused grin, and many times caused my fellow audience members to cackle and repeat instantly classic lines. Almost through the entire movie.
Even the tastefully tasteless jokes are respectfully punctuated by genuine moments of a valid friendship, not only between Mark Wahlberg’s John and the titular toy himself, but the two longtime pals and Lori, played by an endearing Mila Kunis. Without the two human leads performed by these specific actors in their finest comedic roles yet, Ted would have fallen flat.
The premise is laid out cleverly in the first few minutes, and executed in a hilarious montage that does away with the trope of Ted being John’s imaginary friend, as a less bold film would have done. No, Ted is real, and after a childhood wish and a pact between them to remain ‘thunder-buddies’ for life, the world becomes aware of the ‘miracle’, making Ted a novelty celebrity for a short while.
Fast-forward twenty-eight years, and John is a slacker, still watching the old Flash Gordon(Flash! Oh-oooh! He’ll save every one of us!) and smoking pot with his filthy-mouthed furry friend. Lori, John’s girlfriend of four years, tries to be a part of the bond the two man-children(if you could apply such a term to Ted) share, but seems to come up short. To further layer her character as more than the typical bummer girlfriend role, Lori loves Ted too, but also thinks it’s time John and Ted live apart so she and him can have a more normal life, free of sudden coitus-interrupting vulgar duets to ward off thunderstorms.
Enter John’s decision to grow up, and the consequences of his not committing to the deal, as well as the consequences of a stuffed Teddy Bear with questionable morals living on his own. This is where MacFarlane really shines, actually crafting a solid sub-plot for Ted. From impromptu parties attended by Flash Gordon himself to Ted’s less-than classy co-worker girlfriend Tammy Lynn, one would be justified in realizing after leaving the movie that you’d just been suckered into giving a shit about what happens to a plush toy with Peter Griffin’s voice. And I did give ‘ a shit’, like a hooker in a game of no-rules truth or dare.
The first two acts clip along, driven in large part by not just a revolving door of great cameos but Wahlberg, who I have only ever enjoyed in two movies. An argument could be made against him I suppose in The Other Guys, but even Matt Damon was fantastic in The Departed. Marky-Mark’s John is a good dude; honest to a fault and worships the ground Lori walks on. Kunis is a rare indulgence here, and a lot of comedy writers and female leads could take some cues from her performance, especially in these post-Ephron times. Of course, if you have an affinity for the man behind the curtain himself, Seth MacFarlane, you can expect to hang on his every crass Bostonian word as Ted. Giovanni Ribisi makes an awesomely creepy Ted stalker, though a few moments of the final act seemed to suffer from the briefest lack of charm, just long enough for his somewhat telegraphed role to play out. This being my only complaint, and a minor one, I have to hand it to the writer/director and stars for taking some risks and pulling them off in a rewarding way, from start to fanboy-pleasing end.
I would recommend this to anyone looking for the familiarity of slacker and romantic comedies, with virtually none of the expected cliches. Not enough can be said about the rarity of a screwball comedy with a lot of heart and unique humor, especially in the days of endless Adam Sandler rehashes and politically correct, neutered comedies. Ted is the diamond in the rough that only comes along once every few years, taking a nosedive into its ballsy story and stitching together something that is more than the sum of its anthropomorphic parts.