By Michael S. Goldberger, film critic
Seth MacFarlane’s “Ted” is a kid’s fairy tale strictly for adults. And although you get the feeling the filmmaker is breaking new ground, one isn’t quite sure in what way that is. Clearly, however, this is a sweet, nutty and rather raunchy romp through the imagination, deliriously blurring the line between child fantasy and so-called grownup responsibilities.
Once upon a time, about 20 or so years ago, there was a shy little boy named John Bennett who had no friends, and little prospect of ever accumulating any. Thus, one Christmas, to ameliorate the situation, his parents bought him a Teddy bear. They became fast friends. Only problem was, Teddy wasn’t real. So little Johnny made a real big wish.
Fast forward to the present and the once heralded Christmas miracle is all but forgotten by a fickle media that made it the cause celebre back when the title character first took human breaths. But that’s OK with John and Ted, who’ve been as inseparable as peas and carrots lo these many years. And that’s OK with John’s girlfriend, Lori…or so it seems.
But dig a little deeper and you’ll mine the main plot in this oddly shaped love story. While Mila Kunis’s Lori, a career lady who shares digs with the duo, appreciates the kinship she has ostensibly turned into a triangle, she worries that her beau is limiting his horizons, working in a dead-end car rental job by day, getting stoned with Ted by night.
Fact is, John is aware of her concern, fully acknowledging his curious case of arrested development and the downside of maintaining so devoted a link to such a fantastical childhood. Yet he feels indebted. What would Ted do without him? But most of all he’s having a great time, stuck in perennial adolescence with his bear. What to do, what to do?
Adding heady substance to auteur MacFarlane’s creative scenario, Ted isn’t completely selfish, but rather in sympathy with the tragic dilemma his brother under the fur faces. That’s the wonderfully strange thing. He’s real. If we cut him, doth not his stuffing escape? Great F/X and Mr. MacFarlane’s emotive voicing make him fully alive to us.
Mr. Wahlberg, as the would-be adult Johnny Bennett, is quite good in a difficult role, responding to and engaging a cinematic chimera, a cutting edge variation on Jimmy Stewart’s tête-à-tête with Harvey. But the question this fictional relationship ultimately begs is, can an animated character win an Academy Award? You can make a case for it.
Of course, it’s always possible the Academy will shun the ursine phenomenon because of his foul-mouthed ways. Plus, he’s not part of the Hollywood establishment. But aside from the incredible fact that he exists only on film, it’ll take some doing to top his totally enrapturing portrayal. Yep, his persona even matures with the circumstances, so to speak.
Simple of plot, the screenplay assigns judge, jury and prognosticative duties to the viewer, who is beset with figuring out how this sticky wicket of a social dilemma might be resolved. While we’d like to see Lori and Johnny live happily ever after, we can’t entirely fault party animal Ted for whatever encumbrances to that goal he represents.
After all, he didn’t ask to be wished into existence. And he’s known little else but to make his best pal happy. Similar to twins who’ve developed their very own language, for John and Ted moving on with their lives means regaling each other with one memorable anecdote after the next, needing only a buzz word to incite a mutually enjoyed cackle.
Here, Mr. MacFarlane shows us via a cleverly eccentric monograph within his movie that he knows true male friendship, or bromance as film writers have come to call it of late. Ted and Johnny’s residence in a constant private joke is a testament to their bond and a declaration of dedication to a gesellschaft, whether they know what it means or not.
And maybe no one understands that fact better than Lori, impressively realized by Miss Kunis. Secure in her sense of self worth, figuring there’s enough love to go around for all those concerned, Lori is confident in Johnny’s love. But there’d be no dramatic purpose here if that confidence weren’t intriguingly shaken by a series of hilarious complications.
Consistently spiced with Ted’s ever-abashing, street corner profanities, the Boston Southie dialogue is integral to the comedic lilt as the film mind-snatches you into its screwy world. Complemented by allusions to pop culture, politics and anything else that strikes MacFarlane funny, “Ted” is a bizarrely delightful bearer of movie entertainment.
“Ted,” rated R, is a Universal Pictures release directed by Seth MacFarlane and stars Mark Wahlberg, Mila Kunis and the voice of Seth MacFarlane. Running time: 106 minutes
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