Maybe it’s because an appreciation for juvenile humor runs far back with the Michaels family, or maybe it’s just because I’m a teenage guy. But Seth MacFarlane’s brand of humor has always seems to do it for this critic, what with his foul-mouthed non-sequiturs and raunchy pop-culture references. I couldn’t recite a single one-liner from any of MacFarlane’s past work, on shows such as “Family Guy” or “American Dad”, a testament to both the lack of memorability and the, well, massive amounts of one-liners in his oeuvre. He embodies “quantity over quality” moreso than any other American comedian I can think of.
This said, he seems to scale back some of his less commendable traits for “Ted”, making for a leaner, more consistent array of jokes. The fact that MacFarlane is operating within a 100-minute timeframe as opposed to an entire television season seems to have given him the pacing jolt that he’s long needed. And “Ted” is all the better for it, certainly among the funniest films of the year. And yes, although the jokes are every ounce as racially offensive, culturally irreverent and just damn funny as expected, they’re counterbalanced plenty by the ample heart that the film has.
“Ted” is the story of John, played by a hilarious Mark Wahlberg, who from a young age is something of a loner. Thus, when the guy wishes for his beloved teddy bear, “Ted”, to come to life, the two begin an inseparable friendship for the next 27 years. But as time goes by, things begin to change for the duo. For starters, the fact that Ted is a speaking plush animal garners him years of press attention, and with time, a dependency on the bong. John lands both a not-so-cushy job as a car-rental agent and a gorgeous girlfriend Lori, played by Mila Kunis. But Lori is beginning to grow impatient with John and Ted’s continuing antics, eventually giving John the ultimatum to choose between the two.
Perhaps “Ted”s most surprising accomplishment is that it never takes its eye off of what we, the audience, are emotionally invested in. The fact that we completely buy a close friendship between a two-time-Academy-Award-nominated actor and a CGI toy is no minor miracle; this is owed completely to how MacFarlane develops their dynamic in an organic, if crude way. Equal attention is paid to making the romance between Wahlberg and Kunis believable, with a sort of respect being paid to both genders that’s rarely seen in R-rated comedies. These are the relationships that power the film’s jokes and the film’s heart, and their convincing execution is what makes the film both funnier and more moving than most of its sort.
MacFarlane being one of entertainment’s top players, “Ted” is littered with high-profile cameos and name-drops, but these are admittedly some of the weaker jokes in his arsenal. Where “Ted” really finds its flow is in exchanges between characters, where MacFarlane finds a sweet-spot between his best qualities as a humorist: tonal absurdity, gradual build-up and plain goofy one-liners. Oddly enough, there’s a really precise rhythm at play in “Ted”, attributed to a good match of editing and ensemble.
“Ted” is certainly no masterpiece, it just kinda…oddly…nails everything it sets out to do. Weird, right? It sort of functions as a mirror of contemporary pop-culture banality, by calling out everything that’s wrong about it while being just as loud and obnoxious. B+