‘Ted’: About a Bear and His Boy

[29 June 2012]

By Cynthia Fuchs

PopMatters Film and TV Editor

Too Big a Splash

“It has been said that magic has disappeared from our world a long time ago,” narrates Patrick Stewart over that crane shot of a white suburban home you’ve seen in too many movies. In Ted, you guess, you’ll witness a reappearance of magic, not so much in “our world” as in the world connoted by that shot—a world revolving around a cute little white boy named John (Bretton Manley). Stewart provides more detail: it’s Christmas in 1984, in a town “just outside Boston.” Inside that white house, John’s parents beam as he opens his gift, a teddy bear. John not so imaginatively names the bear Teddy and makes a wish, that they will be “best friends for real.”

That wish turns Ted real, which is to say animated, sentient, and devoted to John. He’s also voiced by Seth Macfarlane, and so Ted turns into yet anther version of the same story Macfarlane has been making for years, wherein Ted is another version of Brian or Stewie or Roger the alien, the oddball who is at once so clever and so smug, and, in this case, so crude. This last is granted a motivation, in that Ted becomes an instant celebrity-tabloid favorite-has-been, a familiar trajectory indicated by a montage and a caution, that “When you make too big a splash,” like Corey Feldman or Justin Bieber, it’s only a matter of time before your splash is over and you see that “Nobody gives a shit.”

This, while Ted grows increasingly tattered and John grows into Mark Wahlberg, complete with biceps and broad Boston accent (an accent he shares with Ted, because it’s sooo funny). They drink beer, they watch Flash Gordon reruns, they eat Chinese takeout and smoke weed—and, of course, neither grows up. And so the magic, so-called, becomes just the latest means to an utterly unmagical story about an occasionally manic, profanely comic manchild.

This means you’ll be waiting for the rest of the film’s running time for John to come to terms not only with his dire lack of ambition (at 35, he’s working the counter at a car rental agency), but also with the fact that it annoys his smart, pretty, go-getting girlfriend Lori (Mila Kunis). As tends to be the case in such stories, it’s unclear why Lori has an interest in John or has been waiting for him to propose for four years. It’s also unclear why she’s working at a company run by Joel McHale (here playing someone named Rex, as arrested in his development as John, only wearing a suit and making more money), except that you know John will need to face something like competition in order to get off his couch. 

All this is to say that John is not the selling point here, though Wahlberg presents himself quite adequately, especially if you consider that most of his performance has been managed with a green screen. It’s also to say that Ted has to do a lot of work here, not only serving as the metaphor for John’s juvenile idiocy and libido (and penis, it goes without saying), but also as the metaphor for Lori’s acceptance of same. This makes the plot complicated in that way that Harold and Kumar or Hangover plots are complicated, by nonsensical developments, inconsequential characters, and a short range of fart and sex jokes.

For the first, Ted is coveted and then kidnapped by Donny (Giovanni Ribisi)—whose deviance is indicated by his slithery dancing to a Tiffany video—for his fat and brutal son Robert (Aedin Mincks). This leads to a joint effort by John and Lori to recover Ted that takes them, rather sensationally and also anti-climatically, to an empty Fenwick Park. For the second, Rex ends up meaning absolutely nothing, as does Donny; Robert does offer John a chance to punch out a child, deserving, certainly, but a lazy joke too. Sam Jones and Norah Jones show up, as “themselves,” to prolong the celebrity-is-absurd gag, in case you didn’t get that gag the first 12 times the movie runs it. And for the third, Ted provides various buxom bodies, from the hookers who gather on his couch to the high-haired, high-heeled grocery store checkout girl, Tami-Lyn (Jessica Barth).

It’s too easy to complain that Tami-Lyn is yet another tedious white-trashy bimbo, because that is, of course, what she’s supposed to be, what she’s named by John and Ted. But it might be worth a few seconds to wonder at how and why this joke persists, not just in Ted, but everywhere else too. She is, of course, the perfect embodiment of the manchild’s desires, puerile and vulgar, prodigious and ostentatious, and never so transgressive as she seems to the manchild. Tami-Lyn here provides something like a foil to Lori, something like a tension between John and Ted, and something like a pause for you, as you try not to imagine what sex between her and Ted might look like.

Tami-Lyn also represents what’s missing in movies like Ted, that is, any effort to innovate, to rethink (or even think about for a first time) the problem at hand, the arrested boy, the culture that produces him, the costs that boy imposes on girls. And in this capacity, Tami-Lyn, the little boy’s dream girl who is so easy to mock, despise, and dismiss, is Ted‘s least imaginative take on magic.

Published at: http://www.popmatters.com/pm/review/160437-ted-about-a-bear-and-his-boy/