Fans of “Family Guy” already know what to expect from “Ted,” the big screen directorial debut of Seth MacFarlane. As the writer and the voice behind Peter Griffin on that show he has redefined the limits of what is acceptable on prime TV. Now imagine that without a network censor looking over his shoulder. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you “Ted.”
When John Bennett (Mark Walhberg) was a small, lonely child he wished for just one thing—a best friend. His wish came true, and Ted (voice of Seth MacFarlane), his trusty teddy bear, came to life. The pair became “Thunder Buddies” for life, which causes problems when John grows up and moves in with his girlfriend Lori (Mila Kunis). After four years of living with John and the pot smoking, foul-mouthed Ted—imagine rooming with Bob Marley and Charles Bukowski—she becomes fed up, and makes an ultimatum: It’s either her or the stuffed, stoned bear.
The novelty of watching a stuffed bear spout words that would make a biker blush fades soon after the opening credits. After that the movie relies on Seth MacFarlane’s trademarked blend of awkward, inappropriate humor to get laughs, and you know what? It works. I didn’t feel good about laughing at some of the gags, but I laughed.
The movie is structured like a long-form episode of “Family Guy.” There are flashbacks, fight sequences that intentionally go on too long, pop culture references—MacFarlane gives “Flash Gordon” star Sam Jones the biggest part he’s had in twenty years—and the kind of jokes you tell around the water cooler the next day, but only in a whisper. Seth MacFarlane is an enemy of political correctness, and no one or subject is off limits. You’ve been warned.
The movie works best when it is cursing and drinking, but it also has a heart. Sort of like an R-rated “Alf.” Despite the concept—a teddy comes to life and gets high with his owner—the movie is a fairy tale—although a very raunchy one—and wants you to take the relationship between John and the two most important people in his life—Ted and Lori—seriously. MacFarlane eases off on the raunch slightly in the last half-hour to allow the relationship part of the story to take center stage, but ends off with some memorable jabs.
“Ted” must be the coarsest movie to ever star a teddy bear, but beneath the crudeness is a real stuffed beating heart.
“When I’m lyin’ in bed at night,” Tom Waits sang, “I don’t wanna grow up.”
He’s not the only one. In recent years Cineplexes have been overrun by boy-men: adult males who still act as though they’re 16 years old.
This weekend in the Seth MacFarlane comedy Ted, Mark Wahlberg is John, a man-child who had trouble letting go of his childhood teddy bear who came to life as the result of a childhood wish.
He does everything with Ted — including cower when a storm hits. “Thunder buddies for life, right, Johnny?” says Ted. John replies with an answer we can’t print here.
That’s one of the hallmarks of the man-child movie, they’re raunchy.
Step Brothers is a rude and crude arrested development comedy with enough swearing to make Lenny Bruce blush. Will Ferrell and John C. Reilly play spoiled, unemployed men thrown together Brady-Bunch style when their patents wed.
They don’t get along at first — they even try to bury one another alive — but soon their shared passion for karaoke brings them together, like two overgrown kids in a playground.
Adam Sandler has made a career playing testosterone-fuelled men who never grew up. In Mr. Deeds, Just Go with It, The Waterboy and Happy Gilmore he plays characters with the emotional age of a Baby Gap customer, but the classic is Billy Madison, where he plays a hotel heir forced to go back to grade school.
As Sandler was throwing temper tantrums on screen Jason Segel was slowly defining his child-man act. I Love You Man, with its Man Cave and Rush soundtrack, was a warm up to his most grown-up portrayal of an adolescent man. In Jeff, Who Lives at Home he plays a 30-something who lives at home and is obsessed with the M. Night Shyamalan film Signs. Overgrown and underdeveloped he turns an outing to the hardware store into a wild day.
Peter Pan with a plan
The common link to many of these man-child movies is one man — producer Judd Apatow.
• If it ain’t broke… Not since Jerry Lewis has one man made so much money presenting the age-old gag of self-infantilizing on screen.
• Big names. He’s worked with Ferrell, Sandler and Segel, and it was his R-rated The 40-Year-Old Virgin and Knocked Up that gave us Seth Rogen’s brand of prolonged childhood.
• Plans to recruit Paul Reubens? Apatow even recently announced he’s thinking about making a movie with pop culture’s ultimate man-child, Pee Wee Herman.