A crass but hilarious bromance
You may possibly know someone like Ted. He’s the best friend who graduated high school with you 15 years ago but who never moved on. Who takes up semipermanent residence on your couch with a bottle, a bong, or the remote. Who always has a great idea that gets you in trouble with your girlfriend. No need to tell him to get stuffed. In “Ted,” he already is.
Writer-director Seth MacFarlane’s debut feature film is a crass, foul-mouthed, mostly hilarious, surprisingly sentimental bromance about a grown boy named John and his teddy bear. John, warm and wonderfully dim, is played by Mark Wahlberg. The teddy bear, Ted, is voiced by MacFarlane with the punchy Boston accent of a guy who hangs out at the packie all day.
Years ago, in his lonely youth, John wished his Christmas present would come to life, and through the miracle of angels and digital effects, it did. Now John is 35 and trying to be a grown-up, with a girlfriend, Lori (Mila Kunis), and a job. Ted, with his taste for weed, politically incorrect jokes, and hookers, is all that’s holding him back.
If you’re a fan of MacFarlane’s animated TV empire — the long-running “The Family Guy” and its various iterations — you’ll know to expect cheerfully smutty gags and smart pop-culture throwaways. “Ted” just increases the verbal filth. It’s remarkably inoffensive for all that, although anyone who takes a child to this just because there’s a teddy bear on the poster should have their head examined.
The movie works not because the gross-out jokes are funny (MacFarlane bats about 2 out of 3) but because the two central relationships, between John and Kunis’s tough, tender Lori and between John and Ted, feel real — or real enough. Ted really is that friend you can’t outgrow even when you want to, who shares your taste for bad ’80s movies , and who believes adulthood can be avoided if you just don’t show up for it.
Around that core dilemma, MacFarlane scatters characters and comic riffs and a lot of famous people playing themselves. (Ryan Reynolds you’d expect, but Norah Jones?) Some of the plot tangents, like a bear-napper played by an unctuously creepy Giovanni Ribisi, don’t go anywhere. Others, like a rent-bash that spins out of control, you never want to leave. MacFarlane is used to the confines of animated TV comedy and he can misjudge his tone: A few of the live-action gags here play like cartoons. But all he has to do is put his reluctantly job-seeking teddy bear in a little black suit, grumbling “I look like Snuggles’s accountant,” and he’s on inspired ground.
“Ted” is not for audiences who frown at juvenile humor, clever or otherwise. On the other hand, anyone seeking a filmed Boston that feels close to home will rejoice in the specificity of the locations. Not just the Zakim Bridge but the Hatch Shell and not just the South End but the corner of Chandler and St. Charles. Any director can end a movie at Fenway Park. To finish up atop the Green Monster, you need to have lived here.
It’s not just the places that “Ted” captures but the accents and attitudes. When Ted asks John for a hug by saying “Bring it in, ya bastid,” I thought I’d been transported back to the old Garden, circa 1973. And when “Ted” opens with a mock-nostalgic Christmas flashback memorializing “that special time when Boston children gather together and beat up the Jewish kids,” you know MacFarlane understands our civic disunions more clearly than any outsider. Better, he knows how to nuke them with laughter.