TED, the debut live action feature from Seth MacFarlane is a shocking, but incredibly funny movie that finally signals an evolution of MacFarlane’s brand of domestic comedy after a slow, lingering decline and eventual stagnation in the animated sphere.
In essence, TED is a quirky, modern rethinking of a popular fairytale trope, that of an inanimate object being imbued with life (though was perhaps spawned by MacFarlane’s desire to scrape the bottom of the barrel and find a character more innocent than Family Guy’s Stewie to shock with his lewd and base humour) however what makes the film stand out, is its position in relation to the fairytale genre. TED is the final chapter of the traditional tale, the actual events of the ‘happily ever after’ that supersedes the magical childlike tale but is never documented.
The story opens with a young, introverted boy who wishes for a best friend, and in a rare moment of magical acquiescence, the Universe delivers Ted, the boy’s overstuffed, and now sentient, teddy bear. Life is good for the pair until the years pass, and the real-world demands and pressures shape TED in to a disenchanted, foul-mouthed layabout, inextricably linked with his childhood partner, the now adult John Bennett (Mark Wahlberg). The relationship between the two forces an aspirational and emotional deadlock, as both are content to eschew responsibilities and remain in their immature bubble. This may work for Ted, but Bennett’s beautiful girlfriend Lori (Mila Kunis) demands sacrifice, commitment and a more responsible John Bennett.
It seems that the relatively restrictive movie format has forced an advancement in MacFarlane’s comedy and directorial style. With the reduced time-frame (compared to the lengthy serialised format) MacFarlane cannot indulge his ego with ridiculous surrealistic deviations and the incredibly tired “It’s almost as bad as that time…” gags that populate his animated series. Instead, his comedy becomes quick-fire, witty and sharp without the safety of catch phrases or stock jokes, and in between the humour creeps something that very closely resembles substance. I do not say this in a belittling manner, I have long grown tired of MacFarlane’s wares, but beneath the slew of dirty humour and visual gags of TED gleams some serious talent, and a very solid foundation for a good film. Of course it won’t win any awards, and unfortunately the writing does stumble towards the end (though you cannot blame MacFarlane for being unaccustomed with tight endings) but TED is a surprisingly witty film and shows great promise for the advancement of MacFarlane’s career.
As far as comedy films go, it’s one of the best I’ve seen in years. The comedy pendulums between wit, and toilet humour and with some edgy visuals thrown in for good measure but delights throughout. It also includes a touch of good-natured retro geekiness that borders on Edgar Wright territory rather than the overstocked references of Family Guy, combined and with a little maturity, this style will attract many new fans for MacFarlane and I for one genuinely look forward to his next feature.