The first thing you’ll want to know is, how funny is Ted?
Pretty fuckin’ funny, that’s how funny Ted is. Especially if you are in tune with director and co-writer Seth MacFarlane’s brand of humor, seen in evidence weekly (and in syndication, daily) on TV’s Family Guy, The Cleveland Show and American Dad.
John (Mark Wahlberg) is a 30-something car-rental clerk going nowhere, dating a 20-something corporate powerhouse (Mila Kunis) who wishes John were more ambitious about his career and serious about their relationship. John, however, likes to spend way too much time smoking weed and hanging out with his lifelong best friend, Ted.
It’s a familiar movie trope: the aging man-child held back by an even more immature pal. In Mo’ Better Blues, Spike Lee set it in the world of hipster jazz musicians and made the outcome semi-tragic; in Shaun of the Dead, Edgar Wright and Simon Pegg added zombies and turned tragedy into comedy. In Ted, MacFarlane cuts to the heart of the matter by making the friend an actual childhood toy—a stuffed teddy bear brought to life in a “Chirstmas miracle”—and then shamelessly mocks and exploits the accompanying sentimentality by making the bear a filthy-mouthed, pot-smoking terror. It’s easy to see how Ted could have been made as a serious, “heartwarming” family flick—and it remains, at heart, a fairy tale. But to use language that MacFarlane would understand, it’s like the Toy Story movies, only with balls.
There are many freakin’ sweet one-liners, mild and filthy. (In one of his more benign ripostes, a disgusted, job-seeking Ted looks at himself in a cheap suit and says, “I look like Snuggle’s lawyer.”) And MacFarlane keeps the gags coming, fast and furious; there’s a lot to be said for the throw-as-many-jokes-as-possible-at-the-audience school of comedy. They register as well as they do, however, because Wahlberg and Kunis are such terrific straight men—and because everyone else in the movie acccepts a walking, talking teddy bear as perfectly normal, too.
On his various TV shows, MacFarlane’s pop-culture references can weigh things down to the point of distraction, but, oddly, they’re some of the best parts of Ted. (The wicked Fight Club parody is genius.) Confession time: Though I lived through the 1980s, I have never seen Dino De Laurentiis’ crackpot remake of Flash Gordon. Though Ted practically humps that legendary flop, this part of the movie worked for me.
Of course the movie falls apart in the final act, but that’s built in to this kind of film. In real life, preserving the status quo leads to misery; in fairy tales, it’s required for a happy ending.