BY PETER MCLOUGHLINTed – Universal Pictures, 2012
Ted – the first live-action feature film by Family Guy creator Seth McFarlane – is a love-triangle comedy that manages to entertain despite its formulaic plot and wooden human characters.
The basic arc of the story is derivative Hollywood– down to a gratuitous car-chase scene – but there are enough alterations in character set up to keep the film fresh: instead of the typical love-triangle cockfight for a woman’s affection, it is the woman in the triangle (played by Mila Kunis) who attempts to drive a wedge between her boyfriend (played by Mark Wahlberg) and his best friend – a sex-crazed, bong-toking animated teddy bear (voiced by McFarlane).
Both Wahlberg and Kunis’ characters – the two human characters in the triangle – are somewhat one-dimensional. They are a likeable couple, but they are made passive by the predictable plot, the inevitable will-they, won’t-they story. Paradoxically, the most three-dimensional character in the film is the animated bear, Ted. He is a hilarious, crude party animal, but he is also the instigator for change in the film: he cares a great deal for Wahlberg’s character, his life-long best friend, and makes one or two mature, selfless decisions. Considering the title of the film though, that is hardly a surprise. Ted is all about Ted.
And Ted is hilarious. The screenplay was co-written by McFarlane and two long-time Family Guy collaborators, and they are learned professionals, so it is to be expected. There are moments of Family Guy style ‘random’ humour, but thankfully few and far between: the plot is formulaic, yes, but there is a great deal of humour in the script – only rarely does it rely on punch-lines, poo-jokes and slapstick violence. Ted is such a likeable character, and indeed, a likeable film, because the majority of the humour is naturalistic. Whether it is in Ted’s interactions with his best friend, his employer, or his horde of prostitutes, he is acerbic and mercurial, and most importantly, believable. This is in no small part due to McFarlane’s voice-acting, which is superb.
While the film may not have great artistic pretentions, the character of Ted is clearly a metaphor for the perils of habitual cannabis use. Wahlberg’s character says on several occasions that he needs to stop sitting around doing nothing ‘with Ted’; his girlfriend’s major concern is that he will ‘never become a man’ until he ‘leaves his teddy bear behind’. If there is a message in this film, it is that sitting around all day getting high – while funny – is not a viable way for a man to build a life.
Ted is a film of some contradictions. Both the main human characters are somewhat bland, yet the animated Ted is brilliant. The plot and the set pieces – it also uses the same cheap trick of an ending that The Dark Knight Rises uses – are clichéd and uninspired, yet the situational and dialogue humour clever and natural. It is not a great film, but it is a funny film; and that’s all a comedy really needs to be.