From the fertile and unconventional mind of Seth MacFarlane (FAMILY GUY, AMERICAN DAD!) comes TED, the rude yet surprisingly sentimental tale of male bonding as played out by a boy, his magical teddy bear, and what happens when adulthood is thrust upon them. The biting wit and sophomoric sensibility of the writing is not a whit undercut by the fact that both characters have a heart as big as all outdoors, as well as a loyalty to one another that is as magical and as innocent as the Christmas wish that brought Ted to life 37 years ago,
That was when John (Mark Wahlberg), the unpopular kid in his Boston suburban neighborhood, wished that his teddy bear were real so that he could finally have a friend in whom he could confide secrets and ride out the terror of thunderstorms. What was cute when he was eight is less so know that he is 37, and though he and Ted, who has also grown older in voice and attitude if not size, have a tight relationship based on mutual tastes in low culture and high-quality weed, there is a snag in this otherwise idyllic friendship: John’s girlfriend, Lori (Mila Kunis). She doesn’t so much dislike Ted as she wants John to finally grow up so that they can begin a life together in earnest, a life that doesn’t include Ted as a roommate.
As MacFarlane does in is all his ventures, there is a sophisticated social satire at work that is so finely wrought that though it might appear as the very thing it is skewering, there is something much more subtle and much more potent going on. He is mocking both political incorrectness, and the knee-jerk reaction of the politically correct. In this milieu, nothing is sacred. Good taste us snubbed, and culture, high, low, and indifferent, is pummeled within an inch of its metaphorical life, resuscitated, and then pummeled again. Repeatedly. Meanwhile, male bonding in its social and emotional context is given the cleverest deconstruction in recent memory in any medium. Yet, and here is the real brilliance of the film, it never gives itself away as being more than a raucously funny comedy.
Part of that is the way CGI has brought Ted to life. This is a teddy bear that believable walks, talks (with MacFarlane's voice), gets high, gets with the ladies, and does things with a parsnip (off camera, thank you, Mr. MacFarlane), that are beyond inappropriate, while still looking like a suitable companion for an innocent child. The rest is the deadpan earnestness that the cast brings to lines and situations that work only because this is true. Wahlburg, who has proven to be a comic actor of the first order, isn’t afraid to show some tenderness, making the teddy bear all the more real for the audience, as well as turning what in lesser hands would have been a one-joke premise, into something that stays fresh, even surprising, as the film progresses. The same can be said for Kunis, as well as a supporting cast that includes Joel McHale, Patrick Warburton, and Giovanni Ribisi, who each have their own deliciously twisted subplots that weave in and out of the main storyline the way grace notes in a well-conceived motet bring out undertones that might otherwise be missed.
Praise should also be heaped on MacFarlane’s direction, which builds on established genre styles from light comedy to the darkest noir without missing a step along the way, and to his use of his trademark digressions as more than just a punch line, but also as an efficient method of storytelling that, like the film as a whole, shouldn’t work but does.
TED is crude and brilliant at the same time. A tough line to walk, a tougher line on which to soar, the which this film does with out breaking a sweat, or missing a step.