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Review: Ted (2012)

Ted (2012)

Directed by: Seth MacFarlane

Premise: A lonely boy makes a wish for his teddy bear to come alive. When the boy has grown into a middle-aged man the bear remains his best friend, which causes conflict with his girlfriend.

What Works: Ted is an R-rated comedy and viewers who are looking for a bawdy but funny movie will enjoy the picture. As part of the premise of the story, the teddy bear has aged with the main character, and when the story picks up after the prologue, the bear and his middle-aged roommate are a pair of foul mouthed and pot smoking loafers. Ted has highs and lows but when the film gets into a comedic groove it moves right along with writer and director Seth MacFarlane’s distinct sense of humor. MacFarlane’s story mixes comedy with drama and it manages to have a few heartfelt moments amid the lewder bits. A pleasant surprise of Ted is the characterization of the bear. The idea of a vulgar teddy bear sounds like a concept that would wear thin after the first fifteen minutes but the filmmakers commit to the idea and make Ted a full-fledged character with a range of emotions. The animation of the bear is very impressive; the plush qualities of a teddy bear don’t allow for much expressiveness but between Seth MacFarlane’s vocal performance and the animation the filmmakers manage to sustain the illusion and keep the character interesting. Mark Wahlberg plays the middle aged man and the casting of this actor is an important part of what makes the film work. Wahlberg is usually associated with tough streetwise characters as seen in The Fighter and The Departed, so to have him sharing the screen with a vulgar teddy bear highlights the absurdity and makes the film funnier than it would be if Seth Rogan or Will Ferrell had been cast in the role.

What Doesn’t: Ted is an uneven film that runs a little too long. Part of the problem is that the story is too familiar. Ted follows a well worn narrative pattern of growing up and learning to accept personal responsibility and there is very little in it that is fresh or interesting. In fact, if it weren’t for the presence of the teddy bear much of this film would be indistinguishable from comedies by Judd Apatow and his protégés like Knocked Up and I Love You, Man. In an attempt to inject novelty and drama into the story, the picture includes a subplot about a stalker, played by Giovanni Ribisi, but it does not meld well with the rest of the film. When this subplot finally comes to bear in the finale it sends the story on a tangent that distracts from the direction of the film. But the biggest problem of Ted is the humor of Seth MacFarlane. Ted is consistent with MacFarlane’s television projects such as Family Guy, The Cleveland Show, and American Dad; like those shows the comedy comes down to Generation X pop culture references and vulgar insults including homophobic and racist humor. While it is true that the film puts those comments in the mouth of a character we’re not supposed to empathize with, there isn’ much else to the film and MacFarlane comes across as trying to have it both ways, allowing the audience to laugh at racist and homophobic comments while creating a critical distance that gives the viewer the illusion of deniability. Besides the theoretical problems with the comedy, the more fundamental problem of MacFarlane’s humor is that it is lazy. The comedy genre is well past the point where foul language and bodily fluids are funny and MacFarlane’s humor often reaches for the lowest hanging fruit.

Bottom Line: Ted is satisfactorily entertaining. Despite its outrageous premise the movie lacks a truly subversive bite but for those who enjoy Seth MacFarlane’s television projects Ted ought to be enjoyable.

Episode: #396 (July 15, 2012)