Some movies are funny and are vulgar. Some movies are funny because they are vulgar. Ted is the latter. That is not necessarily a criticism of the film, but its vulgarity is played for maximum humor in every scene that uses it.
The story feels like the E True Hollywood Story version of a Christmas family film. Back in the early 1980's little John Bennet had no friends. So on Christmas when his parents got him a talking Teddy Bear, John made a Christmas wish that he was real. The wish came true and they became best friends and Teddy (later shortened to Ted) became a celebrity. But as the story became old, John and Ted grew up in further and further obscurity. Both descended into being likeable slackers (with the adult John played by Mark Walberg and Ted voiced by writer/director Seth MacFarland) who get high and watch Flash Gordon and other 80's pop culture gems. This friendship starts to get strained as John's girlfriend of four years (played by Mila Kunis) challenges him to grow up.
Thematically, this movie is about growing up. The very relatable challenge is that John has a best friend who retards his growth. But their affections are so deep that John cannot turn him away. This theme has been explored in other wonderfully original comedies like Shawn of the Dead and Made. Having the burdonsome best friend embodied by a Teddy Bear, the very symbol of childhood, was a stroke of comedic genius. This is not because Ted is a horribly insightful and symbolic movie. It's because putting the foulest language imaginable into the mouth of fluffy, innocent-faced doll is hysterical. MacFarland plays this to its greatest effect.
MacFarland was also smart enough to give Ted a wry, slightly depressive personality. Though he sounds just like the character Peter Griffin on Family Guy, MacFarland has to do a lot more acting with his voice. Walberg is also excellent as he mines the comedy from the tension between is best friend and his girlfriend. Kunis also is very good. Though not at her best, she does fine playing the straight man to Walberg and MacFarland. But thankfully she is more than just “the girlfriend,” and is allowed to show her character's intelligence and wit.
Something to keep in mind about this movie is that it is written by an 80's Child for 80's Children. John is a 35-year-old man and the movie is replete with references to things that strike that very specific chord. The most notable of these is the recurring Flash Gordon theme. As someone who remembers that his first trip to the movie theatre was to see Flash Gordon on his 3rd birthday, I found these scenes particularly endearing. There are several jokes that poke fun at that movie, but you can tell it is done with from the point of view of someone who deeply loves it. And that is how it is with all of the nostalgic pop culture humor. The jokes come fast and furious with the Family Guy style of bouncing from references to Aliens, Indiana Jones, and Octopussy.
But unlike Family Guy, Ted actually has heart and emotion in it. As silly as it is, you can invest in the John/Ted relationship, while at the same time understanding how unhealthy it is. And you have to wade through loads of profanity, both in language and content, in order to get to those character moments. I was disappointed, but not shocked, that there was one topless scene that could have been cut out entirely. But this movie is raunchy in most possible ways and is very politically incorrect in how it targets its humor. It was what my wife called “Guy-Funny.” Things like drinking and drugs in movies don't bother me so much if they aren't glamorized. Too often I've found that marijuana particularly is given a pass. There is a lot of pot smoking in Ted. But without getting preachy about it, the movie shows how living that lifestyle will hold back your potential for growth, not just in your professional life, but in you personal life as well. And when the harder drugs are introduced, worse things happen. I don't know if that was MacFarland's intention with that, but it was the message I walked away with.
Blimpy said that a mark of a good comedy is how many lines you keep quoting after you see it. And that is what I find myself doing days after seeing it. Ted doesn't try to be bigger or deeper than it is. It isn't a political satire or a commentary on social issues. It is just a silly movie about a man-child trying to grow up despite is foul-mouthed talking Teddy Bear. I laughed a lot. The whole theater laughed a lot. And for that alone, I got my money's worth.
4 out of 5 stars.