Ted (Theatrical Cut; 2012) – Directed by Seth McFarlane – Starring Mark Wahlberg, Mila Kunis, Seth McFarlane, Giovanni Ribisi, Joel McHale, Patrick Warburton, Matt Walsh, Jessica Barth, Bill Smitrovich, Ralph Garman, Alex Borstein, Laura Vandervoort, Ryan Reynolds, Sam Jones, Norah Jones, Tom Skerritt, Ted Danson, and Patrick Stewart.
Any movie that shows this much love for Flash Gordon and Octopussy and Fenway Park is going to score points in my book.
That’s not why I like TED, though, as Seth MacFarlane’s first foray into live-action movie making is the kind of movie that if I were 15 I’d watch a billion times. Heck, forget 15. When I was an undergrad at Syracuse, there were a handful of movies we watched over and over again: Dazed and Confused, Searching for Bobby Fischer, whatever Bond movie TBS was showing in their annual marathon. TED is that kind of movie, the kind that I just want to watch on permanent repeat, and it’s not because it’s funny (because it is), but because it’s a really well told story. Truth is, I’d watch it even if I didn’t laugh at it because I don’t really care if comedies are funny, so long as they’re good.
It may sound odd to hear me say that I don’t really care if comedies are funny, but I’m much more interested at this stage in my life in a comedy telling a good story than I am in how many laughs it generates. Certainly, I like to laugh and certainly, I want to laugh at a comedy, but simply stringing a bunch of funny jokes together isn’t really enough for me. If too many of the jokes fall flat, I lose interest and it’s not a movie I’m going to want to come back to over and over again.
That means I’m not going to buy the Blu-ray, Hollywood.
Great comedies like The Hangover, Young Frankenstein, Ghostbusters, and South Park: Bigger, Longer, and Uncut are funny, but they all tell engaging stories, too, and it’s that narrative element that had me worried before seeing TED.
Look, I like Seth MacFarlane. I like The Family Guy and The Cleveland Show and, well, not so much American Dad, but they’re successful more because they do funny bits or create funny situations rather than because of any narrative strength. If one looks closely at these universes, they fall apart, and I largely agree with the infamous Eric Cartman takedown of The Family Guy on South Park where he railed against the show’s style of humor. Cartman discovers that Family Guy is actually written by manatees pushing balls around a fish tank, arguing that MacFarlane’s signature show is often built on weird associations. Unlike Cartman, I can acknowledge that style and still love it, but there’s a huge difference between a 22 minute cartoon and a 106 minute live-action movie.
And yes, I said 106 minutes as Netflix doesn’t send you the unrated version of the movie. If you get TED through them, all you get is the theatrical release, so that’s what I’ve watched. It’s a shameless attempt to get you to buy the Blu-ray.
In this case, it’s worked, though I’m buying that Blu-ray less because of the extra six minutes and more because I dug this movie so much.
How can you not love a film where Norah Jones jokes about f*cking a teddy bear in a closet?
Or maybe that’s just me.
I was so worried I wouldn’t like the film that it actually sat on my counter for over a week before I watched it. I like the idea of TED so much, of a kid’s wish granting life to his stuffed animal which then grows up alongside him, that I thought watching it could only ruin what the film was like in my head, but those fears were totally unfounded as the film was strong from start to finish, with excellent performances from Mark Wahlberg and Mila Kunis as John Bennett and Lori Collins, a couple about to celebrate their four-year anniversary as the film opens. Perhaps as a hedge against his own style to toss innumerable random jokes at the audience, MacFarlane (who also voices Ted) populates TED with a whole host of secondary characters who might get a single joke or two and that’s it. Just when you’ve figured out that the gorgeous blonde in that one scene is Laura Vandervoort (but before you can remember how to spell it), you realize you’ve seen her second and final scene.
TED opens in a winter early in John’s life, and we see he’s the unpopular kid in his neighborhood. His parents get him a huge teddy bear for Christmas, and John makes a wish that the bear was alive so they could be real friends. The wish is granted and John wakes up to find his teddy bear walks and talks and just wants to be his best friend. John’s parents freak out, as one would expect, but Ted wins them over and soon he’s a national celebrity, appearing on covers of magazines and making a guest appearance on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson.
I love this part of the movie for two reasons. The first is that it’s great to see the film build in a backstory that explains why people aren’t always freaking out when a big teddy bear starts walking and talking. We don’t have to get all those silly reactions and watch as everyone adjusts. Everyone already has so we can just get on with the movie. The second reason I love it is that it gives us a chance to hear Patrick Stewart as the narrator being one of the funniest parts of the entire movie.
Stewart’s voice is so rich, so strong, so British, that when he recites something completely inappropriate, it’s extra funny just because of is manner of speaking. “Now if there’s one thing you can be sure of,” he tells us after John makes his wish to bring Ted to life, “it’s that nothing is more powerful than a young boy’s wish. Except an Apache helicopter. An Apache helicopter has machine guns and missiles. It is an unbelievably impressive complement of weaponry, an absolute death machine.” Stewart delivers these lines with such glee that it sets a perfect tone for the film. There’s bits that made me laugh out loud, but mostly TED is just constantly amusing, wonderfully blending real sentiment and absurdity.
At it’s core, of course, TED is a movie about a guy unwilling to embrace the idea of growing up. That he lives with his teddy bear is the primary image of this Peter Pan Syndrome, but he also has a “career” working at a car rental company, smokes pot (with Ted) whenever he can, and is still afraid of thunder. A moment that perfectly blends MacFarlane’s mix of sentimentality and absurdity comes when John and Lori are in bed and a massive thunderclap hits. John freaks out and Ted comes running into the bedroom, shouting, “Thunder buddies for life, right, John?”
“Thunder buddies for life!” Ted yells back as the best friends launch into their “thunder buddy” song.
That scene also perfectly encapsulates the cleverness of TED’s script. This isn’t just a movie about a guy you refuses to grow up and make something more of himself, but it’s also a film about a guy caught between his best friend and the woman he loves.
Mila Kunis is really fantastic in TED as Lori, the girlfriend who’s “too good” for John (according to her friends) but genuinely loves him in spite of all his flaws. She’s got a successful, professional gig and a boss (Joel McHale) who constantly hits on her. Lori isn’t looking to radically change John, but she is looking for him to advance a little. It’s to the film’s credit that Ted is such a real character that when she wants John to tell Ted to move out, we don’t immediately think, “You’re kicking a teddy bear out of your house?” Instead, I was on her side. Ted, after all, greeted John and Lori’s return home with the image of him sitting on a couch with four hookers – one of whom had taken a sh*t on the carpet. That’s not funny (or acceptable) to Lori, but she does think its funny when John drops a massive fart in a bar. Her final straw with John is when she’s understandably furious when he ditches her boss’ party to go hang out with Flash Gordon at Ted’s place.
Or is that … Flash, ah ha!
Yes. Yes, it is.
I knew TED had an appearance from Sam Jones, the actor who played Flash in the classic 1980 movie, but I was unaware at how large a role Sam had. Flash is one of the movies that Ted and John bond over as kids, and it’s Sam’s appearance at Ted’s party that convinces John he has to exit the party at Lori’s boss’ house to go do shots with Jones.
There’s plenty of crude jokes sprinkled throughout the film – plenty of them sexual. Ted is forced to get a job after he moves out of John and Lori’s place and he’s rude at the job interview and then rude once he gets the job, telling his boss how last week he had sex on some asparagus and then sold it. Instead of being horrified, his boss (Bill Smitrovich) keeps promoting him. There’s jokes about sex with Norah Jones (“Thanks for 9/11,” is the most hilariously inappropriate joke of the movie on two levels) and sex without a penis and they often generate the biggest laughs, but it’s the smaller jokes built around John and Lori’s relationship that win me over.
When Lori is out on a date with her boss, Ted gets Norah Jones to allow John to sing a song during her concert at the Hatch Shell in an attempt to win Lori back. The song John sings is a song from the movie they watched the night they met – the theme from Octopussy. John butchers Rita Coolidge’s “All Time High” and the crowd turns on him, booing him offstage. Lori’s boss rips John in the parking lot, but Lori neither joins in mocking John nor runs back to him. It’s small moments like this that help to make the characters in TED feel real – even if they’re a walking, talking, cocaine-snorting teddy bear.
I’ve long stopped looking for the funniest movie ever. I like Hangover II almost as much as The Hangover because I like the characters and because the story’s good, even if it’s not as funny. I really like TED. It’s not the funniest movie ever, but it is funny and I really like hanging out with John, Lori, and Ted. Giovanni Ribisi provides just enough creepiness to give the film a shot of darkness and Mark Wahlberg proves again that while he is definitely not the most wide-ranging actor on the planet (or in whatever room he’s standing in), if you give him a role that plays to his strengths he’s a blast to watch. It all adds up to a very enjoyable film.
Plus, it reminds us we’d all be better off if Patrick Stewart narrated our life story.
I know he allows me to believe in magic.
And Apache helicopters.