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A little boy makes a wish that his teddy bear will come alive and be his friend forever. And that's exactly what happens
Good comedy often comes from asking 'and then what?' to the point of absurdity, and Ted's central conceit is an excellent one along these lines: let's find out what became of an adorable boy-and-talking-teddy-bear duo some twenty years later. The initial innocence of John Bennett (Bretton Manley), the lonely child in the prelude, whose pure and true wish that his new teddy bear will come to life and be friends with him, makes a great set-up for revisiting the character he will later become - a slacker whose refusal to grow up is made very literal in his clinging attachment to his sentient childhood toy. As the adult version of John, Mark Wahlberg gives a very funny performance, often upstaging the notional star of the show, the talking teddy bear voiced by writer/director Seth MacFarlane, creator of Family Guy (and voice of many of Family Guy's characters).
The film suffers a little from Ted himself not being particularly likeable. That's kind of the point, but whereas similar boorish and/or anarchic characters who drive the action and jokes with their wacky schemes and outrageous statements generally win us over in spite of ourselves, you couldn't really say the same for Ted - he's no John Blutarsky, Steve Stiffler or even Stewie Griffin. Like Family Guy, there's a huge sense of frustration with much of this material, in that it's obviously made by some incredibly smart people, and there's some very funny stuff in here, but there's also plenty of dud moments, where try as you might, you either feel guilty for laughing or don't laugh at all.
Comedy that tests our comfort with racial or sexual themes is vital. But it helps to have a sense of trust in the overall intentions of the work, and not simply to feel that buttons are being pushed for the sake of button-pushing, which is a problem with Ted's brand of "edgy" humour. Borat had a point. The episode of the sitcom Peep Show where Mark makes friends with a racist uses words like 'chinky' - but in the the context of a very smart and funny exploration of our attitudes to racism. The US Office consistently highlights the kind of 'benevolent' racism that - for example - leads inept boss Michael Scott to make stereotypical assumptions about the basketball skills of his African American employees. In none of these is an oppressed group the ultimate butt of the joke. Ted has a screaming Chinese stereotype mistaken for the Emperor Ming and humiliated in a knife fight. Hmm. It's difficult to make the case that any single one of Ted's boundary pushing jokes is beyond the pale, but taken as a pattern, they paint a not particularly lovely picture. It's a huge shame when there's some otherwise sharp and entertaining material here.
Hit and miss humour with problematic undertones buoyed by an intriguing premise and appealing performances from the film's human cast.
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