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Kicking the Tweets
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Thursday
Jul052012

Ted (2012)

Plush for Life

My love of humor is limitless and absolute. You could tell me the world's most offensive, expletive-laden joke about a gay mulatto cancer survivor reading child pornography in the back seat of his mentally challenged Asian friend's Jaguar as the duo runs over a priest, a rabbi, and an imam who were about to walk into a bar--and I'd probably laugh hysterically. As long as a bit is clever, original, and comes from a place of exploration rather than discrimination, the cobweb-wrapped PC alarm buried in the back of my brain will stay silent.

For the record, I cringe whenever I hear someone use the words "gay" or "retarded" in casual conversation as an emasculating put-down or to describe something that's particularly stupid. I don't blame pop culture for this. I blame parents and bad wiring. A limp-wristed caricature can make millions of people laugh for generations, as it did in Airplane! It can also lead to the beating death of Matthew Shepard. As sad as that is, as strange as that is, I'm unwilling to sacrifice the mind-freeing wonders of art to the futile cause of stomping out intolerance.

For someone who doesn't care about others' opinions of his opinions, I've spent a lot of time this week covering my ass before getting to the review portion of my reviews. Let's just get this out of the way: I absolutely loved Ted.

Writer/director Seth MacFarlane has done so much more than bring his Family Guy shtick to the big screen--he's created a movie that is at once offensive beyond forgiveness and more touching than an Oscar-season weepie. Add effects company Iloura's spectacular, seamless integration of a CGI teddy bear into a human world in ways that will likely make the WETA crew sweat bullets, and you get an utterly unique comedy experience: a fantasy film aimed at adults with really off senses of humor (unlike Adam Sandler's arrested-development clunkers or the stoner-alien snooze fest, Paul).

It's clear from watching Ted that MacFarlane is an unapologetic pop culture junky. That's nothing new; Kevin Smith and others have built wildly successful careers on mining minutiae from 70s and 80s television and movies. What sets MacFarlane's film apart, besides the jokes, is his ability to present the lame conventions of the talking animal picture, buddy picture, and buddy animal picture--and every other weird comedy trend from those decades--as springboards for cool narrative left-turns.

For example, you might expect that when the titular teddy bear magically springs to life following a little boy's Christmas wish, the movie will take a pseudo-E.T. route--where the boy must keep his unusual friend a secret from a world that would hate and fear him. Instead, we're treated to Ted's world-stage debut within the first ten minutes. He's hailed as a miracle, a freak, and, soon enough, a washed-up celebrity that no one cares about; no one except his best friend, John, of course, who grows up to be Mark Wahlberg.

No one would blame you for also assuming that Mila Kunis's presence in the film marks the screenplay's slide into a predictable formula wherein John's teddy bear prevents him from landing the girl of his dreams (or helps him, via some Cyrano De Bergerac hijinks). But you'd be wrong. Kunis plays Lori, John's long-time girlfriend and ball-busting pal of Ted's. There are romantic complications aplenty, stemming from John's refusal to dream past his rental-car-agency-clerk position. But MacFarlane and co-writers Alec Sulkin and Wellesly Wild choose their obstacles carefully, blowing up the requisite misunderstandings and screw-ups to epic, left-field proportions.

I won't spoil these for you, except to say that the filmmakers' out-of-the-box thinking will forever change the way you think of Norah Jones, Tom Skerritt, and Sam J. Jones. Skerritt's arc--which is all brilliantly implied--is one of the movie's biggest, darkest laughs.

Despite its weird relationship drama and bong-brained slacker vulgarity, Ted has some very adult ideas about the tragicomic pull of arrested development. Ted agrees to move out on his own so that John and Lori might have a go at real-world commitment. John is willing to give up his last tether to juvenile irresponsibility, but his heart still wants to eat cereal on the couch and make fun of bad TV all day. Lori sees her boyfriend's potential going up in smoke, and does her best to be supportive of his friendship with Ted--while also asserting her right to live as an adult. At no point does she turn into a cartoon shrew who demands that John give up his childish ways. Instead, she patiently plays the supportive girlfriend role until John screws up so badly that she has no choice but to leave.

This sets the climax into gear, and for about fifteen minutes, Ted becomes a bizarre action/comedy/kidnapping picture starring Giovanni Ribisi. With chilling references to child abuse, a callback to the eerie Tiffany-fandom documentary, I Think We're Alone Now, and a tense, Fenway Park climbing chase straight out of Annie, the movie skillfully switches genres while never losing its deliciously twisted humor. In short, it's a bug-nuts way to wind down a stupid talking-bear movie. All praise to MacFarlane for pulling it off and again shredding expectations (I'm referring specifically to the climbing scene, which I guarantee plays out differently than you'd expect it to once characters start ascending the light towers).

Like Terry Zwigoff's Bad Santa, Ted uses a grimy, disillusioned American setting to test the durability of our most cherished myths and ideals. It's fitting that both movies begin at Christmastime, the cultural touchstone (or at least, the pop-cultural one) of generosity and hope, and that they both soak their characters in chemicals, existential despair, and anti-story-book relationships before ultimately arriving at the same conclusion: no matter how messed up the world gets, there's always a chance for goodness to shine through--even if that goodness takes the form of a drug-crazed teddy bear with a penchant for 9/11 jokes and sodomy.

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