With Mark Wahlberg, Mila Kunis, Seth MacFarlane, Joel McHale, Giovanni Ribisi. Written by Seth MacFarlane and Alec Sulkin & Wellesley Wild. Directed by Seth MacFarlane. Rated R (for crude and sexual content, pervasive language, and some drug use). 106 minutes.
TED is one in a long line of recent comedies (“The Hangover,” “Due Date,” the “Harold and Kumar” movies, nearly anything with Adam Sandler) which celebrate immaturity and aggressive stupidity. They all feature one or more characters who may look like an adult but behave like a 12-year-old boy, particularly a vulgar and not very bright child. It is where “Ted” is different that makes this a very funny and very touching comedy.
Co-written by “Family Guy” creator Seth MacFarlane, making his directorial debut, it tells the story of John (Mark Wahlberg) and his stuffed bear Ted (voiced by MacFarlane). As a boy John didn’t have any friends so when he gets a teddy bear for Christmas he proclaims it his best friend and wishes that it could talk for real. Miraculously his dream comes true.
Nearly thirty years later, John and Ted like to drink and get high and watch TV together, but John does hold down a job (at a Boston car rental agency) and is very much in love with girlfriend Lori (Mila Kunis). She loves him too but at age 35, John is a bit old to need to sleep with his teddy bear when there’s a thunderstorm. The movie raises the interesting question as to whether growing up requires one deny their childhood self or simply put it into proper perspective. Most of these other comedies celebrate remaining childish. In “Ted” John isn’t afraid to be a responsible adult, but doesn’t want to have to kill his inner child in the process.
If that sounds too serious, take heart. While that subtext is there, it’s wrapped with a hilarious collection of jokes ranging from the witty to the tasteless, featuring surprise celebrity appearances, pop culture gags, and Mark Wahlberg singing a most unlikely song at the Hatch Shell. As with “Family Guy,” MacFarlane isn’t afraid of non sequitur humor or layering gags on top of gags. A disco flashback that seems to be referencing “Saturday Night Fever” is actually recreating the spoof of it in “Airplane!” There are stereotypes galore, but since MacFarlane isn’t mean-spirited – and zings virtually everyone in sight including his own limited range as a voice actor – it is hard to take offense.
A subplot in which a seedy guy (Giovanni Ribisi) wants Ted for his own son is where some will divide on the film. For some it will seem a melodramatic distraction from the hijinks. In fact, it’s what makes the movie work, since it will determine the fate of the John/Ted relationship. Ironically it makes “Ted” another film – after “The Town” – to see a climactic crime scene at Fenway Park.
Mark Wahlberg is wonderful as John, continuing to impress with his ability to play comedy as well as dramatic roles. He makes John sympathetic and sincere, rather than a Sandler-style creep. Mila Kunis has fun with what might have been a thankless role as the girlfriend. MacFarlane staple Patrick Stewart adds a touch of mock class as the film’s narrator.
“Ted” offers the low comedy and raunch that made movies like “The Hangover” a hit, but don’t be fooled. It’s a lot smarter than that and turns out to be a lot more entertaining as well.•••
Daniel M. Kimmel is a veteran movie critic and author of a host of film-related books, the most recent being Jar Jar Binks Must Die… And Other Observations About Science Fiction Movies. He teaches film at Suffolk University and lives in Somerville.