Ted: On a mission to sully everything, TV showrunner Seth McFarlane denigrates childhood’s teddy bear totem by turning it into an alter-ego for infantile 35-year-old Boston bachelor John (Mark Wahlberg). Voiced by McFarlane, bear and boy-man share potty-mouth immaturity—the same vulgarity as in Bad Santa but with McFarlane’s rabid sarcasm.
Fans of TV’s Family Guy and American Dad won’t ask for meaning (which personalized Jodie Foster and Mel Gibson’s ventriloquial The Beaver); instead, McFarlane’s repertoire of crass jokes insists that brazen, anti-religious tastelessness is enough. Ted gets described as “a Christmas miracle. You’re just like a baby Jesus,” an easy way to pervert the poignant super-ego identification (and innocence) of the several teddy bears in Spielberg’s movies (from The Sugarland Express to A.I.: Artificial Intelligence–the greatest symbolic toy anima of all).
McFarlane avoids confronting surrealism (“A miracle is what seems impossible but happens anyway”) by resorting to Family Guy cliché, as in a raucous,fist-to-paw battle royale between Ted and John. Despite some funny lines in the blackout-sketch narrative, there’s not even enough thought to satirize Luke Skywalker’s allegiance to Yoda or Elliott’s to E.T. Ted is a vulgar fantasy without a decent sense of wonder—or decency. Co-starring lewd Mila Kunis.
To Rome with Love: What’s the polite term for a filmmaker who keeps “rebooting” himself? Woody Allen used to call it “Sex with someone I love”; now critics praise his routine ventures into bourgeois narcissism, no different from Midnight in Paris, Vicky Cristina Barcelona or Match Point.
This time, Allen’s Club Med excursion docks in Italy with at least four interconnected tales of lust, privilege, infidelity and, maybe, insanity. Romantic? No, just formulaic. Enlisting trendy actors Ellen Page, Jesse Eisenberg and Greta Gerwig doesn’t make the film fresh, it merely shows how bad these young performers can be without a filmmaker who cares to direct them. Mumblecadette Gerwig would be forgettable if her posture weren’t so regrettable, a clear sign of Allen’s deep-seated contempt for audiences and shill critics who chuckle by rote.
Unforgivable: A head- and heart-spinning ensemble of love-searchers in the year’s deepest and most dazzling human display. Carole Bouquet and Andre Dussollier discover middle-aged passion comparable to the confused young sexual experimenters surrounding them. Set in the teeming waters and secretive streets of Venice, their unpredictable modern-day lives evoke each character’s complicated past. Relationships with their friends and their children reveal the eternal conflict of private emotion and social imperative. It’s the rare movie about personal truths we all recognize—one of director André Téchiné’s best.