Movie Review: TedPosted: August 7, 2012
Seth MacFarlane makes the leap from the small screen to the big screen with this movie, and he’s chosen a great project for his first movie. MacFarlane’s cartoon shows revel in having crude jokes and adult language come from odd sources (Stewie, Brian and Klaus) and apparently this story of a teddy bear come to life was floated as a TV idea before MacFarlane realized that it would work better in a live action setting as it would make the bear’s presence and outbursts all the more surreal and outrageous.
In 1985 a ten year old boy without any friends makes a wish that his teddy would come alive and be a real best friend. Through unexplained magical means the wish is granted and his bear comes to life. However, this is no Disney flick and Ted becomes a celebrity before the public’s interest fades and he falls from grace. Now 38, John (Mark Wahlberg) and Ted (voiced by MacFarlane) are still best friends and going nowhere. Ted now spends his time getting high and partying, while John is trapped in a dull, unfulfilling job and yet to fully mature, stuck in an adolescent limbo with his best friend.
However, for the sake of his relationship with his girlfriend Laurie (Mila Kunis), John does want to grow up but his lack of responsibility and the bad influence of Ted cause tensions and Ted must move out and try and make it on his own. Can Ted cope by himself? Can John really sever ties with his best friend?
Now, I love Family Guy and American Dad (I’m not so fussed on The Cleveland Show, although it has its moments) so I was well versed in MacFarlane’s style of humour- dirty, shocking and filled with pop culture references. As a fan of his earlier work you could say I was inclined to like this flick from the get go, but I honestly think that it will work for people who aren’t as fond of the director’s animated work.
One reason for this is that it doesn’t take place in an animated world where anything goes, and while its hardly the most realistic of films, the live action medium does ensure it remains fairly grounded and makes the surreal moments much more outlandish and shocking.
The other difference from MacFarlane’s TV work is that it doesn’t have the mean streak that’s present in those shows, don’t get me wrong there are lots of off colour jokes and insults galore, but I actually found the movie kind of sweet. While the plot might be seen as lampooning Disney fare it actually has some of the same themes as those movies. John’s childhood loneliness is handled well (and amusingly) and the friendship between the two characters feels real and is wonderfully touching at times.
Similarly, John and Laurie’s relationship is also rather sweet. MacFarlane makes a good call in casting Kunis, who is more than capable of handling saucy, foul mouthed dialogue and shares real chemistry with Wahlberg. The other thing I liked was that she’s shown to be easy going, fun and most importantly, funny in her own right. All too often with films that deal with responsibility-vs-friends themes there’s a tendency for the wife/girlfriend to be nothing more than a nagging killjoy, which never works because you find yourself wondering why the guy is with them in the first place and how their relationship has made it this far. Here the relationship works because we’re shown that Laurie gets on well with Ted and is just as fond of daft jokes and messing about as John is, but also has a clear idea of where she wants to go and knows when to draw the line and be grown up.
I think Mila Kunis is one of the best comedic actresses working today, I’ve only seen her in a couple of things (That 70s Show, Max Payne, Forgetting Sarah Marshall and, of course, Family Guy) but she’s usually impressed me and I love the fact that as well as being gorgeous she also has a real flair for comedy. Its a rare mix, and I think with some good choices she could establish herself as the cool rom-com actress (although I thought the same thing about Katherine Heigl after seeing Knocked Up and she was soon mired in standard genre fare like 27 Dresses). She’s great here and makes Laurie a likable character and not just “the girlfriend” and, as I mentioned above, she and Wahlberg have great chemistry together.
Wahlberg has long been a favourite and man-crush of mine, and after being in my best movie of last year, The Fighter, he may have cemented a place in this year’s top ten with this flick. Wahlberg has this regular-joe amiable character which I instantly warm to and he plays the slacker-ish John really well. I can’t remember ever seeing Wahlberg in an out-and-out comedy before although there are funny moments in several of his films (Three Kings for example) and he’s carried them off well, but I was still impressed with just how good he was in this and how well he handles the comedy.
He ensures that his character is never a pitiable loser, and shows real charisma that explains what Laurie sees in him as well as conveying the fact that John does want to move on and do something with his life but struggles to do so and doesn’t want to lose his friendship with Ted.
The friendship between the two reminded me of Superbad, where underneath all the blue talk and insults there was a genuinely touching, loving friendship between the two male leads. And the friendship here is utterly convincing and at times really touching.
MacFarlane does a great job as Ted, delivering his lines in a voice very similar to Peter Griffin (a fact acknowledged in the film) and it all seems fresh and off the cuff, unlike several films like this where the voices are dubbed in later and often feel a little flat. Apparently MacFarlane would jump into scene and act out the scenes meaning the actors can riff off of each other and his dialogue was recorded at the same time so it feels more naturalistic.
The rest of the cast do very well, and there are several appearances from MacFarlane’s colleagues on Family Guy and American Dad, including Patrick Stewart providing a very funny, tongue in cheek narration for the film which got one of the movies best laughs in the screening I was in.
There are also some big name cameos which are rather amusing, including Norah Jones playing a foul mouthed, slightly slutty version of herself and my man crush, Ryan Reynolds in a fleeting role.
Best of all is the fact, that as ever with MacFarlane there are numerous pop culture references, especially to the 1980 Flash Gordon, John and Ted’s favourite movie which I loved, and a wonderful cameo from Flash himself Sam J. Jones, playing a coked up, partying version of himself. For someone who loves that flick it was nice to see and I really enjoyed the repeated references to it, and seeing Jones now- his hair’s scarily remained the same and his acting hasn’t improved in the last 31 years, but still it was nice.
There are a few flaws, some of the gags go a little too far, or are a little too niche (I love Flash Gordon, but I’m not sure a lot of younger audiences will get the gags) and some of the supporting characters are a little flat. Also, there’s the sense that MacFarlane has had to add somethings in to make it fit the film formula and follow the 3-act model and the subplot regarding the movie’s villains doesn’t quite work, but I suppose it does give the film a structure and enables MacFarlane to reach the rather satisfying conclusion of the movie.
Verdict: Its not for everyone, and some people (like my parents) may not be down with the film’s frank, crude sense of humour, but most of the jokes work and it had me laughing loudly several times. And underneath all the blue humour and swearing its a rather endearing, sweet natured film. Wahlberg, Kunis and MacFarlane do great work, and while it does have a few flaws, for the most part it succeeds. 8/10.
Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO