Ted (Universal, R)

I know it’s a cliché to write “I laughed! I cried!” but I feel almost obligated to say those words because I totally did both of those things.

 

 

John Bennett was the saddest, loneliest boy in the world until one magical Christmas morning when his parents bought him a teddy bear. One Christmas wish later and John’s teddy bear comes alive, and even a minor brush with celebrity can’t keep John and his new friend Teddy from becoming “thunder buddies” for life. Flash forward to today, and a 35-year-old John (Mark Wahlberg) and the slightly frayed, belligerently foul-mouthed Ted (voiced by Seth MacFarlane) are still best friends. Clearly the pair hasn’t matured much in the ensuing years: they spend their days getting stoned and watching Flash Gordon on John’s couch, while John works a dead-end job at a low-rent rental car company and Ted invites over hookers in his absence. Inexplicably, John has a long-term, drop dead gorgeous girlfriend, Lori (Mila Kunis). But after four years, Lori is ready to take the next step: she needs John to grow up, but in order to do that, he has to leave Ted. John is stumped: he loves them both equally, but he’s (somewhat rightfully) worried that if he doesn’t act soon, he may lose Lori to her skeezeball boss, Rex (Joel McHale). Meanwhile, as Ted makes his first hesitant moves into the real world, he has to worry about Donny (Giovanni Ribisi), a creeper who grew up obsessed with Ted and wants to buy him as a toy for his equally creepy son (Aedin Mincks). Within all this chaos, what’s a thunder buddy to do?
 
If you’ve seen more than a few episodes of director/co-star/co-writer Seth MacFarlane’s long-running TV series Family Guy, you probably think you know what you’re in for in his first theatrical feature: random ‘70s and ‘80s pop culture references, blatantly racist jokes that dare you to laugh at them, maybe a preposterously lengthy fistfight between a person and an anthropomorphic animal randomly thrown in for good measure. And you wouldn’t exactly be wrong, as the movie includes all of those things. (Thankfully, the pop culture references are better integrated here than in your average Family Guy episode, with McFarlane using them to establish and embellish the personalities of John and Ted rather than as the fodder for tossed-off, half-formed gags.) But Ted also has something that has only ever crept in around the edges of MacFarlane’s TV output: a whole lot of heart.
 
I know it’s a cliché to write “I laughed! I cried!” but I feel almost obligated to say those words because I totally did both of those things. First the laughing part: this is an uproariously funny, legitimately “laugh out loud” movie, one where jokes sometimes fire off so quickly that you miss one because you were still laughing so hard at the last one. And true to Family Guy form, a lot of the humor is unbelievably crass (the effect is somehow both softened and amplified by the words coming from a talking teddy bear), but hey, it’s an R-rated comedy, and fans of MacFarlane who are looking for him to push beyond broadcast television standards of good taste won’t be disappointed. True, some of the jokes land with a dull thud (particularly, for me, the stoner stuff…not my bag, baby), but MacFarlane and his co-writers (and fellow Family Guy regulars) Alec Sulkin and Wellesley Wild have a way of building up the comedic scenes so expertly that even if they don’t grab you at first or lose you in the middle, they’ll still get to you by the end.
 
But despite all appearances, there’s a surprising amount of emotional depth in Ted. Turns out McFarlane has an awful lot to say about long-term friendships, relationships, and being true to oneself. It could have come off as cheesy, cloying, or even just plain dopey but it works because Wahlberg, MacFarlane, and Kunis sell it with their performances: you believe in John and Ted’s friendship and you believe in John and Lori’s love for each other, so seeing those relationships threatened actually resonates. Trust me, this was the last movie I was expecting to tug at my heartstrings, but MacFarlane played them like a symphony. MacFarlane does take a few shortcuts as he ties up all of the plot’s loose ends (Lori, in particular, does a 180 for plot expediency that isn’t quite as convincing as it needs to be), but it’s all in the service of an ending so perfect, so downright John Hughesian, that you’ll forgive him for rushing a bit to get there.
 
What might be the most refreshing thing about Ted, though, is how well it nails such a straightforward story. Think about how many mediocre films have been milked from the concepts at the heart of this movie, like the girl who’s in love with the emotionally stunted man-child, or adolescent gross-out comedies centered around *shudder* bromance. And yet Ted takes all those seemingly worn out concepts and makes them sing. Whodathunk that the movie that could turn so many tired concepts on their ear would star a talking teddy bear? | Jason Green
 
Official website: http://www.tedisreal.com

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