Ted Review: Seth MacFarlane spreads his wings in big-screen debut

Seth MacFarlane

Seth MacFarlane’s particular brand of humour is not for everyone. In fact, some people find it downright irritating. I am not one of those people, but I understand the hate. Hell, there are even times when Family Guy gets on my nerves, even though I mostly love it. With Ted, MacFarlane has branched out. Sure, there’s still the usual irreverent jokes at the expense of others, but generally there is much broader and somewhat warmer humour at which MacFarlane’s shows have only previously hinted.

The premise is purely cheesy, classic Kids movie’ wish-fulfillment: a boy (John) receives a teddy bear as a gift, who becomes his best and only friend. One Christmas, he wishes that “Ted” could be real. Lo and behold, John wakes up one morning and Ted is alive and freaking John’s parents out (in a very funny little scene). A montage follows showing the fervour that grips the world upon discovery of a talking stuffed bear. Appearances on talk shows, news reports, the inevitable bust for being on drugs/drink. Fast forward a number of years, and John (Mark Wahlberg) is a thirty-something slacker with a girlfriend named Lori (Mila Kunis) who is too good for him and an adult Ted who is now abrasive, foul-mouthed and loves him some recreational drug use. Ted and Lori butt heads, somewhat vying for the attention of John.

Firstly, I’ll say the idea is great. This feels like an updated, sweary E.T. (which gets an affectionate nod). Regardless of what you may think of the end product, this has to be one of the sweetest, smartest concepts of the year. The script does a good job of establishing a background story for Ted and John, which serves the film well overall. By creating a history for the pair, the thin drama has significantly more weight (more on that later).

Upon first viewing, this is a very good movie. It does not rely solely on the strength of its concept, managing to develop it and squeezes out some real comedic diamonds. The “white trash names” scene will go down as one of the funniest things MacFarlane has ever been a part of, as well as being the perfect showcase for Mark Wahlberg’s underrated comic flair. Scenes like that make it clear that MacFarlane is working with Alec Sulkin and Wellesley Wild, two of the lead writers for other MacFarlane projects. Whilst there is new comic territory unearthed here (the chemistry between Wahlberg and Kunis is believable, and thanks in part to snappy dialogue), there is also plenty for fans of Family Guy to enjoy. There are several strange cameos, with results ranging from the funny (Ted Danson on a fictional Cheers DVD extra), the nudge-nudging (Family Guy‘s Alex Borstein), the hit-and-miss (Flash Gordon!) and the pointless (Tom Skerritt). In typical fashion, Patrick Stewart makes an appearance in voice, narrating the opening and closing sections of the film, and provoking some excellent laughs, including a shot at Brandon Routh that the poor guy doesn’t really deserve.

The quotability factor is certainly here, but not in abundance. For me, a truly great comedy film has to have rewatch-ability (it’s a word…kind of.) Airplane, Anchorman, Animal Crackers, Groundhog Day. These comedies still manage to make me laugh, even after seeing them over and over. Ted does not quite match that, but it is an admirable attempt. There is genuine fun to be had, but you may find that the good will doesn’t last.

Overall, the humour is pretty scatter-shot, making for a quantity-over-quality feel. There are plenty of hits, but the misses are difficult to overlook. Joel McHale – excellently dickish as Lori’s perving boss – let’s out a fart after spending several hours with Lori, which feels out of place in a moment that had solid dramatic potential. Multiple viewings reveal more flaws. The fact is, whilst the relationship between Ted and John is well developed, the tragic elements of the final act don’t quite land as well as they might have. The tone of the rest of the film made me feel like the rug was going to be pulled from under me in the form of an ill-timed joke, which meant that I couldn’t fully invest myself in the drama. Watch the film a second time. The cameos begin to grate upon losing the element of surprise, the Family Guy references are fun but tedious, and your fondness for Ted himself certainly will not grow. The very jokes that make for an exciting first-watch becomes tiresome quickly, and whilst there is a lot to like here, Ted runs out of steam quickly. For all its effort and positives (including a timeless score by Walter Murphy), it doesn’t overcome its flaws. Ill-timed jokes suffocate the drama, and Ted ultimately suffers because of it. Watch it just once and you’ll love it, but don’t go back expecting further rewards.

Rating:

What do you think? Leave a comment.

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You can call me Tatt. I like all kinds of films, as well as talking to/boring people about them at great length, so brace yourself.

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3 Comments

  1. Simplex
    0

    It was a “meh” for me. Was expecting more from the creator of one of the best cartoons.

    • David Tatlow

      I agree. Considering how much staying power something like Family Guy has, it’s interesting that MacFarlane hasn’t quite nailed this. I suppose it’s a big leap from 20-minute ‘toons to 2-hour pictures.

  2. Thank you for reviewing Ted, David; I finally got to watch it last night. I rented Ted online just before leaving my office at DISH for the afternoon and it was downloaded to my DISH Hopper DVR, ready to watch, before I made it home. This was a great movie, but I can definitely see the hit and miss humor you spoke of. In the end I think this is a good first outing for MacFarlane in film; I think he has room to grow, but Ted hints at Seth’s real potential.

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