Ted movie poster reviewWe are a nation of lost boys. Ragged desperate creatures clinging to the trashiest, most disposable vestiges of camp and kitsch as a means of postponing our disappointments.

So you have Ted, a film about a living teddy bear and his boy who sit around watching re-runs of ’80s sitcoms and smoking pot. At 35, John (Mark Wahlberg) is a poster boy for arrested development. Working at a dead-end job as a clerk at a car rental business, he and Ted are square in the middle of nowhere, circling the couch in the same tired patterns.

Something horrible happened to John. When he was a child he wished for a magic friend. The next morning his teddy bear came to life and the two became inseparable, co-dependent losers of the sort that would make Cheech and Chong envious. Now, decades later, they inhabit that same psychic space, spending nights worshipping pop culture landmarks like Alf and Different Strokes.

Ted has helped John permanently postpone adulthood. After all, Ted came to John like Jesus at the end of a falling star. God himself is willing the middle-aged slacker to be baked. Sometimes there’s nothing worse than to have your deepest desires fulfilled, especially if those desires are half-baked adolescent fantasies.

The bear is Freudian Id. Cut off from actual erotic pleasure, castrated from birth, manufactured without the one body part that would allow him to enjoy his desire physically or reconcile them in a socially acceptable way as parent, Ted is desire confined in a body incapable of fulfilling its ultimate goal for obliteration and violence.

He’s permitted much because he is not real, but because he is not real he can’t actually articulate desire, can’t consummate the destructive need to ravish and destroy or overcome those urges by producing an offspring.

But Ted doesn’t seem to want more than his body allows him. He doesn’t yearn to be a real boy and experience actual sexual pleasures. He’s content to perform sexual simulation, grope at strangers, hump inanimate objects, and play at ejaculating. It’s impossible to guess what pleasure he’s getting from all of this phantom sex and yet because of this inability, he is a perfect symbol for unmet libidinal energies, desire without a means of satiating itself; desire for desire’s sake; pure Id.

Like John, Ted’s desires are foggy and indistinct, but the bear can remain in this state – that’s one of the luxuries of being imaginary – while real boys must become men. Right?

Lori (Mila Kunis), John’s longtime girlfriend, seems at least to have her priorities straight. A VP of marketing at a large corporation, she wants a lot more from life than John and his teddy bear. She identifies (correctly) that her boyfriend is in arrested development mostly because he’s still clinging onto adolescence by constantly hanging out with Ted.

Is it really possibly for John not to want more? To not want to marry this woman and move on with his life? Lori can’t fathom being happy with so little ambition and hope for the future. Taking the role of a mother to her would-be husband, she tells John what a bad influence the bear is on him, how he enables the middle-aged boy to be happy with a go-nowhere job and nights of getting wasted to Flash Gordon.

The natural resolution of this friction would be a rejection of childish desires (Ted) as John’s erotic attraction to Lori forces him to choose procreative pro-social values over what comforts immaturity can offer. This is how we imagine the film resolving (even after we have seen it), when in fact this happy resolution doesn’t occur.

The film moves in this direction when Ted is torn in two and John has to face inevitable loss. Unable to find the magic in himself that gave birth to this little monster, he begins to accept that the world doesn’t conform to his desires. You can almost see the child inside of him dying and the man emerging, but then Lori intercedes.

After a failed attempt to revive the bear, the couple returns to their apartment. John cries himself to sleep, more resolute now, capable of accepting reality. But evidently the real can be postponed. Lori wakes up during the night, goes to the window, and instead of wishing for a child on the first falling star – a child would bind John to manhood forever, force him to be a father and husband rather than a little boy – she wills the bear back to life.

“I wished for my life back,” she later lies. It was actually the boy she brought back, and in so doing she cast the man he might have become, the adults they both might have become, away.

In the end she preferred the boy with all of his pot smoking, low-level aspirations and ’80s fixations to the hardened man she saw being born in her bed. Accepting him for what he is now, what he will now always be, she wills him back into childhood just as certainly as she wills the bear back alive. Ted is the child she will never birth from a boy who cannot become a man –a boy she will not allow to become a man.

The boy’s wish that breathed life into this creature was at least innocent. (A child can’t imagine a greater pleasure than play.) But Lori has willed away manhood and decided it was more important to possess John the boy than to let the man go free.


Jeff, Who Lives at Home

Gen X Review of Jeff, Who Lives At Home Poster
Jeff is stuck.

Waking up just long enough to do bong hits, a prisoner self-confined to his mother’s basement, Jeff is an evolutionary dead-end. At 30 his biggest challenge is crossing town on a bus to get wood glue.

If this doesn’t exactly sound like the sort of dude you’d want to spend an hour and a half with, don’t feel bad: I felt the same way. I got my fill of befuddled middle-aged slackers last year with Our Idiot Brother and wasn’t expecting much out of Jeff, Who Lives at Home. The newest film by the Duplass brothers – who gave us quirky films such as Baghead and The Puffy Chair – is unusually sweet, charming, and even occasionally moving.

Jason Segal stars as Jeff, an adrift stoner who has taken M. Night Shyamalan’s Signs literally, pontificating over the mysteries of destiny described in the film. His life, like the lives of the characters in Signs, only makes sense when looked at backwards from a climatic ending. So he searches for this ending in the most random events imaginable – in a wrong number or the name printed on a basketball jersey – convinced that the end will justify the craziness of the journey.

The goose chase for wood glue at the insistence of his emotionally overworked mother (Susan Sarandon) gets this inert Sasquatch moving, but for most of the film he seems to drift aimlessly. Because everything means something to him, he’s unable to determine which leads are likely to pan out so he follows them all.

Eventually he meets his brother Pat (Ed Helms) outside of a Hooters. Like Jeff, Pat’s domestic life is in stasis. He and his wife Linda (Judy Greer) barely communicate and seem to be on different paths. She wants to save up, “act like grown-ups,” and buy a house, but he wants to purchase a Porsche, mostly as a means of negotiating their failed sex life. (They haven’t had sex in months and Pat believes the sports car will warm his wife up for him when really she just wants him to be more present in their relationship.)

There is something very wrong with Jeff, Pat and their mom. While searching for an ending that will tie the film (and their lives) together, they constantly bump against an unnamable event that has left them emotionally disfigured. The scars of this original trauma must be peeled back to free these characters.

Jeff continues to misread the signs, however, and we do, too. Although there is a precious, almost too-sweet Hollywood taint to the film, it also pulls against the conventions. Jeff is not the slacker savior who has all the answers because he “trusts the universe.” As the plot goes off track, stalls, and comes back around, it comes back as something new, mostly because we begin to recognize the characters as people and not stock types.

“Have you ever felt like you were waiting forever to figure out what your destiny is all about and when you finally do it’s not all that exciting?” Jeff muses, revealing not only that he has always already known what his “problem” was (and from where it stemmed), but also admitting that he has just been playing a role. It’s a role we’ve seen developed in other films and it’s not particularly creative or life-affirming.

All the characters find themselves stuck on a bridge near the end of the film, and Jeff suddenly frees himself and in so doing frees others who might have been doomed to become as lost as he has been. It’s not the most elegant or believable climax, but it ties the film together better than wood glue.

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