I’ve got a whole bunch of films I’ve seen recently lined up to do “high-brow” reviews on- trying to fill in my film knowledge, or at least manicure my posts so that I look really intellectual and employable when it turns out that an English degree on its own won’t cut mustard and an ambition-free life of grad-schemes and pen-pushing comes my way.
Fingers crossed that won’t be happening, but hell, as a result, this hasn’t always been the most relevant of blogs. And, like most bloggers, I’m shamelessly trying to push my viewing figures all the time. So I went to see Ted, with my friends (who by and large throw things at me when I talk about films) and didn’t just sit through it. I really quite liked it.
Seth McFarlane knows what works for him, and has managed make the not-quite-same joke about based about bawdy Boston situational comedy at least 335 times, if you count all the episodes of Family Guy and American Dad. Well, make that 336, because Ted is a bawdy Boston situational comedy which is unashamedly, crassly entertaining. And it really is.
Lets just be clear, there really is only one joke to this film, but its enormously versatile and manages to fill out the film: A self-referential-socially-aware-contemporary-pop-culture-nostalgia-inducing-cameo-invoking-faux-intolerance joke. If you think I’m just being facetious, then think over the movie’s best one-liners: Ted’s Peter Griffin soundalike jibes, jokes at the expense of the fat kid, that 9/11 joke, a retarded Lazarus moment and Mark Wahlberg’s frenetic recital of Trailer-Trash names against the clock. It all plays to this stereotypical working Boston bloke that McFarlane has nailed; so self-aware and wincingly honest that he can just get away with carving through taboos with the care-free attitude of a pot-smoking teddy bear.
Its not technically brilliant. There’s little visual sense to the movie, and what stylistic touches there are aren’t exactly inventive. But that’s like accusing The Simpsons of not being true-to-life. After a moment of questioning it, you tell yourself to shut up and enjoy it.
Its more than just a dragged-out Family Guy episode, too. There is a genuine plot, with genuine narrative progression, a denouement and a (sort of) subplot. OK, so it runs out of steam for 10 minutes about 3/4 of the way through, which threatens to derail the whole affair if it wasn’t dragged back by another shockingly funny and, well, shocking one-liner. It even has the barest hint of character development. Not that I care if Mila Kunis sensitively handles the emotional burden of her man-child boyfriend and his toy (she doesn’t). I only care that she’s brash enough to dismiss any initial accusations of chauvinism you might have of McFarlane, and that she is gorgeous enough to make anyone disengage their brain and let her clunky character [McFarlane’s fault really] just lure you in with her big, smoky eyes.
Indeed, the biggest question Ted asks of its audience is to suspend any criticism of the film’s premise, and just enjoy the interactions of these ballsy Bostonian caricatures. Mark Wahlberg does a very good job here. Like Kunis, he isn’t furnished with a brilliant character to develop, but he uses that slightly 2-D effect and it works. Just watch that bit again where he does that Trailer-Trash name parade. Apparently he did that without cue cards or script- scribbling down all the names he could think of before shooting and reeling them off in 2 or 3 takes. Its a tongue-twisting achievement and hits the spot because even if you don’t appreciate his sincerity as an adult human being, you absolutely appreciate his mildly bigoted world-view when viewed through the bromantic lens McFarlane brings to the party.
McFarlane himself gets the lion’s share of this. His biggest credit is playing the whole thing straight – from Patrick Stewart’s slightly innocuous narration (That jars at first, and works well by the end) to the premise of a washed out ex-celeb having to to join the real world happening to be the world’s first and only magically animated toy. It just makes the whole film work, that you don’t even question the bizarre allusions to Flash Gordon that run throughout, or the mechanics of an amorous teddy bear. And despite being “handicapped” by the Peter Griffin-esque distinctiveness of his own voice, McFarlane nails his protagonist. The stuffed toy is as much a character as any human co-actor, and not once did I stray to think of McFarlane bounding around in one of those spotty morph-suits they use for motion-capture. How Wahlberg and Kunis kept a straight face on set, I can’t imagine.
Oh, and while I remember, the best joke of the film came completely by chance, and it was thanks to the marvellously creepy Giacomo Ribisi, whose campy, milkshake-slurping, long-limbed dancing to Tiffany’s I think we’re alone now was so uncannily like my friend Jake (sat two seats along from me) that the 5 of us watching had to stop watching the film for a minute or two to give him as much grief as we could about it.
Ted is not a film that will be on I’ll be hankering to rewatch, but that isn’t a bad thing really. It’s value is principally in its initial shock-joke format, much like the TV series it evolved from, where you can’t quite believe you heard what you just heard. Its not like many people slavishly rewatch TV shows, is it? Its done incredibly well already, especially considering its status as a small-budget (VERY relatively speaking) non-franchise fart-gag TV graduate, so don’t bother with the DVD. Go with some mates, get down to the cinema and just enjoy the damn thing, because even if you don’t expect to you will enjoy it. If it all gets too much, just look at Mila for a minute or too, and brace for another unexpected burst of foul-mouthed wit.
PS. This blog has gone strangely international in the last few days. Re-blogging TED (The conference, not the film) seems to be doing something. Cheers, anyway. In the words of