With a sequel just released (read our review here) and the world at the feet of a foul-mouthed teddy bear, now seems the perfect time to review Ted, the directorial debut of Seth MacFarlane, who also happens to write the script and voice the pot-smoking, perverted plush toy. When released, it became the highest-grossing R-rated live-action comedy of all time, but the biggest question is whether or not it still holds up, three years since its much-anticipated release.
Ted follows John Bennett (Mark Wahlberg), a lonely child that only wants one thing: a best friend. One evening, he wishes that his teddy bear Ted(MacFarlane) would come alive and be ‘friends for live’ with him. Skip a couple of decades (which we skim through in some entertaining flashbacks), and John and Ted live together, smoking pot and watching cartoons instead of taking charge of their lives. John’s girlfriend Lori (Mila Kunis) has put up with Ted for too long, and wants John to decide between the love of his life and his ‘thunder buddy’, all while having to deal with Ted’s obsessive stalker Donny (Giovanni Ribisi).
For a comedy – particularly one revolving around a talking teddy bear – the plot of Ted is pretty solid. The film starts off very plot-driven, with a good amount of time dedicated to building up some of the main players, particularly John, but all of this is done so entertainingly thanks to Patrick Stewart’s superb narration that it never feels contrived. Some of the flashback scenes scattered throughout the film are very well done, providing context to some of the relationships between characters, while of course giving us something to chuckle at.
However, towards the middle the film becomes quite messy. The first act is very story-based, whereas the second act is practically one long party, that is really only played for laughs and doesn’t have a whole lot to do with the story. I’m not necessarily complaining, since some of the gags and characters introduced here are the film’s best, such as Joel McHale’s smug businessman Rex and the entire Flash Gordon/Sam Jones moment, which, although completely bizarre, is just superb. A lot of the scenes in this second act begins with something related to the plot, but then divulge onto another strand of humour altogether, far removed from the scene’s beginning. Don’t get me wrong, the second act does keep the story chuntering along, but it does take its time, at times feeling unnecessarily long.
The third act gets the film back on track, focusing once more on the main story, but also falls down in its own way. It focuses on Ted’s stalker Donny, who obsesses over the teddy bear and tries to kidnap him. This is all well and good, in fact it provides some of the film’s best action scenes and some belly-laughs, but the main issues is that we barely know Donny. He pops up briefly twice in the theatrical cut before taking Ted, and only three times in the unrated cut, and his motivations are clichéd and paper-thin. It’s never clear why he’s doing what he’s doing: all that’s clear is that he is doing it. I understand Ted isn’t meant to be a deep character study of Donny, but the more emotional scenes – which take place mostly in the third act – would pack way more of a punch if we had some more background on a couple of the characters.
Although a couple of the film’s characters lack enough depth, those that have time devoted to them are simply brilliant. The eponymous teddy bear is so funny, making snide remarks under his breath, acting snarilky and confident in front of people to impress them, and having one hell of an attitude (my favourite line of his being his foul-mouthed retort when told to stand up straight). He’s a fantastic character that is so well written and fleshed out thanks to MacFarlane’s great writing, which balances risky humour with heartfelt monologues. Ted’s clearly the star of the show here – as a character as unique and downright hilarious as him should be – but the supporting cast do a pretty great job too. Mark Wahlberg is solid as John Bennett, and although this isn’t a ground-breaking performance from him, his energy and flair help this film untold amounts. Mila Kunis is especially great as John’s boyfriend Lori, portraying a character emotionally torn to the breaking point, and her character helps ground the story when it does get a bit ridiculous (Flash Gordon cutaways anyone?). However, my personal favourite is Joel McHale as Lori’s boss Rex. Having recently binge-watched all six seasons of the sublime show Community, it was so refreshing to see McHale in a role different to his Jeff Winger character. Rex is pretentious, cocky and downright hilarious, and thanks to McHale’s brilliant comedic timing and natural snarkiness, help make some of Ted‘s stand-out moments – in my opinion at least.
From a technical standpoint, Ted is also pretty great. The score is fantastic, combining a jazzy feel during some of the film’s scenes with a suburban, upbeat, early-noughties-esque sound at others, whilst still having the typical violin orchestra during the intense moments. The score emulates the film’s tone: at times light and joyful, and at times a bit darker, but never anything hopelessly depressing. Some of the cinematography here is also very good, particularly the establishing shots of the Boston skyline, and this being MacFarlane’s directorial debut, gives me great hope for his future forays into cinema.
Some dodgy pacing and under-developed characters aside, Ted is a playful romp that fantastically mixes character-driven, emotional plot-lines with filthy, well-written humour, all which is helped by some great performances from the main players. Although it may not be the best live-action comedy out there as box office records may suggest, Ted is still a massive recommend that is sure to get everyone laughing – as long as you’re not easily offended!
I give Ted 8 out of 10.