Seth MacFarlane’s live-action directorial debut is the funniest film of the year and may be one of its best.
There’s a reason Family Guy creator Seth MacFarlane has a legion of fans. The former animator turned voice actor, comedian and producer has his finger on the pulse of American pop culture, often including various references into the inner monologues of the dysfunctional characters he’s created. The Star Wars references on Family Guy alone led to a DTV series of three films that spoofed the original trilogy. MacFarlane also has a knack for making his flawed and sometimes downright despicable creations appealing, yet he’s been criticized for not writing more character driven pieces.
For his live action directorial debut, Ted, MacFarlane has fashioned yet another intriguing premise, the story of a 35-year-old man whose best friend and roommate is a talking teddy bear that magically came to life when he was ten years old. It’s a nifty idea where even the thought of it seems humorous, but one that could quickly fizzle if not handled by the right talent. MacFarlane seems to be well aware of that and of his critics and though his vocal work helps make the foul mouthed, pot-smoking, sex crazed title character endearing, it’s his onscreen relationship with star Mark Wahlberg that really sells the piece.
At times, Ted feels like an extended episode of Family Guy, opening with a “fairy tale” approach with some rather hilarious and often dirty narration by none other than the great Patrick Stewart, a Shakespearean actor no less. The fact that a boy’s teddy bear suddenly came to life one night because he wished for it is something that’s easily accepted in this world as Ted becomes a bit of a celebrity, before turning into a slacker who spends his free time smoking a bong on the couch of his best friend John (Wahlberg). Wahlberg’s man-child, “aw shucks” persona and Boston accent is actually appropriate for MacFarlane’s material here, making this perhaps the first time the former underwear model’s been perfectly cast for a role. Whether Ted is an animatronic or complete CG creation remains to be seen, but the actor does deserve praise for performing rather naturally opposite an artificial co-star. Yoda may have been the center of attention in his scenes with Luke in The Empire Strikes Back, but it was Mark Hamill’s performance that made their interaction feel real.
MacFarlane could have easily taken the safe way out and simply made Ted a bad influence on John, also a slacker who’s on the verge of making assistant manager at a second rate car rental facility. But the furry guy does mean well and wants the best for his longtime buddy as well as live in girlfriend Lori (Mila Kunis), who after four years wants John to make a proper commitment. Asking Ted to move out and find a place of his own so that he and Lori can plan their future is the hardest thing John’s ever had to do, but it doesn’t put a damper on the pair’s relationship. If anything, it shows Lori just how attached to his teddy bear her man can be.
Despite the fact that John’s promised to Lori to have less of Ted in their life, when his furry friend calls him up, the guy still comes knocking. You have to realize, this is a grown man who can’t get to sleep during a loud thunderstorm without cuddling up next to his teddy and singing a song from their childhood. The growing friction between John and Lori actually puts a smile on the face of her sleazy, spoiled and rich, womanizing boss (Joel McHale), who’s been waiting to make his move.
There’s a strong number of laughs to be found in comedic situations involving Ted interacting with people in the real world. Again, this is a world where no one seems to be creeped out over the fact that they’re talking to a sentient teddy bear. Despite the fact that he has no sex organs, Ted has no problem picking up women and even reveals he slept with Norah Jones. (Yeah, she actually makes a cameo). Ted says anything vulgar that comes to mind in an effort to screw up one job interview only to find the jaded supermarket manager hiring then promoting him every time he screws up or gets caught having sex with the hot new cashier girl in the produce section. I know, I know, how can Ted have sex without sex organs? You’d be surprised what he can do with a parsnip…according to him.
The film’s greatest strength is it’s well developed and believable relationship between Ted and John, so real in fact that there are moments you forget one of them isn’t human. MacFarlane could have thrown the whole concept in the trash, cast a likable, known comedic actor such as Seth Rogan to play a real person and the relationship between Ted and John still would have worked because it feels so human. The picture as a whole might not have been as strong – let’s face it, a potty mouthed sentient teddy bear sure is funny – but the relationship between the two leads would have worked.
Yet that’s what makes good films memorable, the relationships between fully developed characters. Though Ted makes an unnecessary left turn late in the story involving a creepier than usual Giovanni Ribisi as an obsessed fan, what comes before involving the two man characters gives the movie strong legs to stand on. But just because MacFarlane has wisely worked on character development for his film debut doesn’t mean he’s turned his back on his gimmick of throwing pop culture references our way throughout the story. One nice bit where Lori and John recall their first meeting has the latter remembering it a different way in a spoof of a scene from Airplane which in itself was a spoof of a scene from Saturday Night Fever. MacFarlane understands the short attention spans of today’s audiences and every so often “smacks” us with quick flashbacks or inner monologues that will make you wonder, “did I see what I just saw?” Even the fact that MacFarlane’s voice for Ted is basically Family Guy’s Peter Griffin, isn’t ignored. Then there’s the ultimate pop culture reference, one that resurrects 80′s icon Sam Jones in the most unique way. It not only serves as a turning point in the story and in the relationship between Ted, John and Lori, but makes for a nice present for a number of MacFarlane’s fans. You have to see to believe what is most certainly worth the price of admission alone.
Despite a few story turns that feel a tad generic, even for MacFarlane, for a live-action film debut, he’s crafted a raunchy and vulgar comedy that’s really about friendship and male maturity. It’s not only the funniest film of the year to date, but just might be one of its best. Besides, any film that uses Patrick Stewart to matter-of-factly point out how bad Superman Returns with Brandon Routh was is definitely in my cool book.
“You should try this, my dealer says it’s good s#!t. It’s called “Mind Rape”. It was either this or, “Gorilla Panic”, “They’re coming, they’re coming…” or “This is Permanent”.”