Thursday, July 2, 2015

Film Review: Ted 2

It is very difficult for me to adequately review this movie without getting into spoilers about this movie and the previous Ted movie.

If you don't want any spoilers, let me say that Ted 2 is probably the funniest movie of the year with jokes about which I am still laughing days later.  Is it as funny as the first?  No.  Is it as good as the first?  Not even close.  Both involve drugs, crude humor, and a talking bear.  So how are they so different?  The answer is in the review below.


One of the things that made the first Ted movie so good was that it had a strong and simple thematic element: growing up.  John (Mark Wahlberg) was a man-child whose arrested development was primarily the fault of his childhood friend Ted (writer-director-star Seth MacFarlane), a magical walking and talking teddy bear and a perfect metaphor for childhood friendship.  The drug use and immature behavior were rampant, but one of the reasons the movie worked was because you could see those things not just as moments of humor but as obstacles to John's growth.  The more he lived this life with Ted, the less chance he had to become a real man and keep his love Lori (Mila Kunis).  By the end of the movie, John seems to find a balance.  He grows up and marries Lori but he keeps his loyalty to his old friend.

Ted 2 throws away all of that.

Ted 2 begins with Ted marrying his girlfriend from the last movie Tammi-Lynn (Jessica Barth).  At the wedding we find out that John and Lori are divorced.  A year after the wedding, Tammi-Lynn and Ted are having marital fights that make the Honeymooners looks refined.  They decide to have a baby to save their marriage.  After a number of false biological starts and hijinks, they try to adopt but are told that Ted is property, not a person.  With the help of pot-smoking lawyer Samantha (Amanda Seyfried), the quest to secure Ted's rights begins.  All this is done while the villain from the last movie Donnie (Giovanni Ribisi) lurks on the edges of the plot to kidnap Ted again.

There are a lot of problems with MacFarlane's set up:

1.  John is ruined.
As stated before, John's entire journey from the first movie is nullified.  The plot requires this in order for John to backslide into a grown-up pot-head.  But I couldn't help but look on him with disappointment.  He has a blooming romance with Samantha, but that is partially because she is a druggie too.  In fact, at one point in the story John complains that Lori refused to get high with him.  So instead of John maturing as a person, all we have is a pouty perpetual frat boy.  The entire plot of the first Ted may as well have never happened.

2.  Ted shouldn't be the main character.
The first movie works well because John could go through character development and the foul-mouthed teddy bear could be the funny comic relief.  Ted didn't have much of an arc in the first film and that was okay.  Ted 2 tries to put him front and center, but it doesn't work because he doesn't grow and change.  He's the same horrible person at the beginning he is at the end.  The movie tries to have it both ways by acknowledging Ted's lack of development but still trying to get you to root for him.  It rings false.

3.  It is too preachy.
Comedies live and die by the jokes.  But because of the plot, the movie has to take stops and give speeches about "important things."  There is an underlying metaphor for "gay marriage" throughout.  There is even an unintended (I believe) pro-life message in one of the speeches.  Regardless, these moments take all of the humorous wind out of the movie's sails.  As a result, the movie is way too long and it feels it.

The foul language and raunchy humor are not that problematic for me as a Catholic.  I've heard much worse and in some context much of it isn't problematic.  For example, I didn't mind the drug jokes in the first movie because it ultimately showed the negative effects of that behavior.  The more John got high, the greater the risk of losing his love.  Not so with Ted 2.

No one grows.  No one learns.  In fact, in an un ironic condemnation of our modern society, Ted's value is not based on his individual rights given by reason but on how he makes people feel.  What a horrible lesson to be learned: if people love you then you have value but if they hate you then you don't.  In this world, we value feeling above thinking.  But the horrible result is that if we abandon reason, all that matters is the manipulation of emotions.  But as Catholics, we believe our value does not come from how make others feel.  We have value because we are made in God's image.  In this regard, Ted 2 misses the point completely.

And the central problem of the movie, Ted's horrible marriage, is never fully addressed.  Having a child to save the marriage?  This is never sufficiently critiqued.  Yes, Ted 2 is a silly comedy, but the best comedy works because it touches on some fundamental truth.

The only thing that keeps this movie from failing is the fact that some of the jokes are genius.  The horribly wonderful seen with Improv comics is still playing around my mind.  There is still a lot of potential with these characters to be found.  But like his show, Family Guy, MacFarlane risks having a franchise filled with empty laughs and no heart.

3 out of 5 stars.

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