David Lowery is a filmmaker from Texas. His work as a director has been shown at Sundance, SXSW and the Cannes Film Festival, and includes Pioneer, St. Nick and Ain’t Them Bodies Saints. As an editor, he has cut such films as Bad Fever, Sun Don’t Shine and Upstream Color, for which he received an Independent Spirit Nomination. As of this writing he is working on a movie about a dragon.
My wife was aghast when I told her I was going to see Seth MacFarlane’s Ted 2. “You don’t really want to see it,” she insisted. But I did! Every day I passed a huge billboard advertising the movie on the way home from the office, and every day it made me smile. Plus, I liked the first movie.
“You didn’t even see the first movie!” she protested.
Upon reflection, I had to admit this was true. I’d seen the trailers and clips back in the summer of 2012, and out of them I had apparently formed a vague and happy memory of enjoying the movie itself. On the one hand, this is unforgivable, but on the other, those trailers were pretty funny, and of the sort, I wagered, from which an accurate assessment of the movie itself could probably be drawn. Also, Roger Ebert and P.T. Anderson had both liked it. I was fairly certain that, had I actually seen it, I’d have enjoyed it just as much as I already thought I did.
“But you don’t like Family Guy,” my wife told me. This was true also, but on the other hand, I really like that talking bear. “No!” she cried. “You don’t!
But I do! On the list of things I like, talking teddy bears hold a minor but estimable spot. I assume it’s nostalgic residue from my own trustworthy stuffed bear, whose name was simply Bear and who from toddlerhood through middle school was one of my fastest friends. I still have him. Here he is, making a cameo in the background of my short film Pioneer.
He’s packed away in a box now, alongside a tiger, a penguin, a Fievel, a Grover and a few others from that plush coterie of which he was the elder statesman. I suspect I have him to thank for my affection towards the Downy Fabric Softener bear, the remarkable Teddy from Spielberg’s A.I.: Artificial Intelligence, and now Ted, who to my significant other’s chagrin charms me to a perhaps unreasonable degree.
To ratify this affection and pursuant desire to see Ted 2, I explained to my wife that even higher on that list of things I like are Mark Wahlberg, Mark Wahlberg movies and, especially, Mark Wahlberg comedies. I just love Mark Wahlberg! The utter sincerity he brings to each of his performances and the endearing naiveté that marks the best of those reaches a specific pitch in his comic roles that delights me like very little else. Let Mark Wahlberg be funny in a movie and I’ll be there opening day. Unless that movie is Ted, apparently, in which case I’ll match its easygoing appeal with an anticipation so laid-back that I never actually make it to the theater.
In truth, I could imagine the same thing might have happened with Ted 2, but now the gauntlet had been laid down. I was determined to ground my convictions, and hoped to add both Ted movies to this list of things I like that I apparently maintain. I decided to have a Ted double feature, optimistically thinking that perhaps more Ted would be better Ted. I watched the first film at home, texting my wife in told-you-so fashion every time something funny happened, and then went to see a midnight showing of Ted 2.
That was three days ago. Remarkably, my memory of Ted is almost exactly the same as it was before I’d actually seen it, and the esteem I hold it in is only slightly lessened by the fact that I now know for certain there’s a great deal of the movie I’ve already forgotten. The best scenes were indeed in the trailer and, indeed, they were an accurate barometer by which to assess the film as a whole. Mark Wahlberg and the bear were both terrific, and their rapport made me laugh a lot. There were a few other good gags and some forgettably distasteful humor, padded by a great deal of affable coasting. I was OK with this.
Ted 2 coasts along as well, in pretty much exactly the same way, except that the funniest scenes aren’t in the trailer, which made for a relatively superior experience. In particular, Mark Wahlberg’s reaction to a particular strain of marijuana had me in tears, as did a gag about Morgan Freeman’s coffee table and an extended non-sequitur concerning the proper disposal of internet porn. I was intrigued by the increased focus on Ted as a character, and found the scene in which he and his new bride have a fight that borders on domestic abuse fascinating for how straight it’s played.
The movie is also notable for its at times stunning tone-deafness. I personally love shocking, rude and provocative humor, but this film doesn’t push buttons so much as it simply acknowledges, loudly and repeatedly, that those buttons exist. It refuses to engage with its own insensitivity, which results in jokes that aren’t offensive so much as they are sad, confusing and ultimately forgettable. Perhaps your response will be different. I found the bad taste uneven in a way that feels personal, as if MacFarlane is laying bare his id in pursuit of guffaws, warts and all. Which is fascinating, but not what you really want when you go see a movie about the friendship between Mark Wahlberg and a stuffed animal.
That friendship, for the record, still works like gangbusters. Watching the two of them singing along to the Law and Order theme song or riffing on courtroom lingo (that joke’s in the trailer) is just great! Their chemistry works so well that I think, for better or worse and accountability be damned, the ill humor will fall away and leave in its wake the affable memory of a funny-enough movie, with great comic performances from its human and non-human leads. I will remember it mostly well, find it an inconspicuous spot on this mythic list that doesn’t actually exist and, when the inevitable Ted 3 comes out, I’ll look at the billboards, think happy thoughts and look forward to seeing it. My wife will shake her head and sigh.