Seth MacFarlane is one of those hit-or-miss type guys who seems to have been missing a lot more than hitting lately. Though his big TV show, Family Guy, started off well, the most recent seasons have succumbed to format fatigue. The show’s penchant for cutting away to complete non sequiturs has worn out its welcome and, even worse, it’s committed the cardinal sin of comedy – it’s just not funny anymore. Add to that his attempts to recapture the original Family Guy magic with shows like American Dad and its spin-off The Cleveland Show, and it would be easy to say that MacFarlane is kind of stuck in a rut. So why not try a feature film? MacFarlane’s predominantly a TV guy, and one who’s been down on his laughs recently so, despite its hilarious trailers, the odds seemed to be stacked against his new film Ted.
In case you happened to have missed the aforementioned hilarious trailers, Ted is a movie about a young boy who wishes for his teddy bear to come to life. John Bennett is not exactly the most popular kid on the block. Even the little Jewish kid who gets his ass kicked every day hates John Bennett. The poor kid just doesn’t have any friends. So when his parents give him a big stuffed teddy bear for Christmas, he names it Ted and wishes that Ted could come to life and be his best friend forever.
Despite Patrick Stewart‘s hilarious and irreverent voiceover during this early section of the film, John’s wish is surprisingly emotionally. It’s easy to connect with this kid who doesn’t really fit in anywhere and you want him to find a friend – even if it’s a magically living teddy bear. It’s the first in a series of actual heartfelt moments that lift the film a cut above most foul-mouthed comedies.
This being a movie, of course John’s wish comes true and he awakes the next morning to find Ted walking and talking. This becomes national news and Ted becomes a bit of a celebrity. And like most famous oddities, the 15 minutes are eventually up and the spotlight shines somewhere else. Fast forward a decade or two and John and Ted are still best friends. John is in his mid-30s (now played by Mark Wahlberg) working a dead end job. He’s been in a relationship with the beautiful Lori (Mila Kunis) for four years. But Lori’s getting a little fed up with Ted and the literal shit is about to hit the fan.
Plot-wise, Ted follows a pretty standard rom-com formula. John and Lori are having problems, John and Lori break up, John and Lori get back together. Where Ted stands out from the rom-com crowd is that John and Lori’s problems and inevitable break up actually make sense from both sides. It’s easy to understand why John has a tough time letting go of his best friend and it’s easy to understand why it’s upsetting to Lori. She’s not drawn as an irrational villain, but a level-headed woman who wants to spend more time with her boyfriend. Instead of some crazy misunderstanding that could have been easily solved by a 10-minute adult conversation, Ted has actual conflict. It’s that honesty that elevates the rom-com sections of the film above the standard fare.
Ted is all Seth MacFarlane, all the time. That’s not to imply that films are made by one person, because they are most certainly not and MacFarlane had a large crew to help him, but he directed the film from a screenplay he co-wrote and he provides the voice of Ted. Luckily, despite any comedic rut he may have been in, with Ted, MacFarlane totally redeems himself. The film is funny throughout, from the opening narration with Patrick Stewart talking about Apache helicopters to Ted’s great comedic timing to the chemistry and relationship between Ted and John, playing off each other perfectly, Ted is flat-out hilarious. Part of this could be traced to a lack of non sequiturs. While there are certainly a few tangents, the groundwork for each joke has almost always been laid ahead of time. Quick montage-style shots of John and Ted smoking weed and watching Flash Gordon pay off with Flash Gordon references down the line. It’s a much more tightly scripted comedy than most of MacFarlane’s recent TV output and, as such, it really works.
Unfortunately, Ted isn’t quite a perfect film. Some of the third act storytelling is a little clunky, and while Giovanni Ribisi is equally funny and creepy, some of his storyline feels a little shoehorned. Thankfully, Wahlberg and MacFarlane keep things moving pretty well and the laughs are consistent. Kunis is equally great, never coming off as catty or unreasonable and nailing the righteous indignation, particularly in a scene where she comes home to find Ted has hired several hookers. Ted is a great comedy and a win for Seth MacFarlane.
The Upside: Consistently funny with great performances.
The Downside: Slightly clunky third act.
On the Side: Ryan Reynolds has possibly the greatest cameo in a film with several great cameos.