The first thought that may come to your head when you think of Seth MacFarlane is Ted… or Family Guy, or the 2013 Oscars, or “Hey, that’s the funny guy who voiced that weird teddy bear with a Boston accent!” At least, that’s what I immediately think of when his name comes up. There’s a lot of trepidation when approaching MacFarlane’s newest comedy A Million Ways to Die in the West. Is he going to go too far? Will he offend someone? Is the movie actually funny? The answer is more or less a yes to all of these questions, depending on your taste in comedy. But it’s quite easy to say that MacFarlane’s film is easily one of the funniest comedies in 2014 thus far.

The wild west is no place for Albert (MacFarlane), who lives in Arizona in the year 1882. Why is the wild west no place for Albert, you ask? Well, for one, Albert hates it. There a million ways (and the film does well to highlight them) to die. Cholera, shoot-outs, angry drunks, temperamental trigger-happy folks, wild dogs, bulls. You name it, someone in the wild west will die of it. It doesn’t help that Albert’s down and out after his girlfriend Louise

(Amanda Seyfried), who’s dumped him for the arrogant and heavily mustached Foy (Neil Patrick Harris). When Anna (Charlize Theron) shows up in town under a shroud of mystery, she helps Albert try to win Louise back by showing her what she’s missing. So Albert learns to shoot, tries to one-up Foy and his mustache, and gets a lesson in his own self worth from the tough Anna, all the while not knowing that she’s with Clinch (Liam Neeson), the deadliest man in the territory. On the side, Albert’s friends Edward (Giovanni Ribisi) and Ruth (Sarah Silverman) add to the fun by trying to solve their own relationship woes.

The movie sets itself up from the beginning as a mockery of… pretty much everything. The wild west and all of its fictitious glory is shredded to pieces, people and cultures are made fun of (some a bit offensively, if you’re to really think about it), there are several fun and well-placed cameos by Ryan Reynolds, Ewan McGregor, and the best cameo to date by a well-loved character whom I won’t spoil for fear of ruining the moment. There’s also a dance off and a hilarious and well put-together musical number called “If You’ve Only Got a Mustache,” which is easily one of the highlights of the film. The film also has a lot of physical humor, which never quite ceases to be funny.

 

MacFarlane knocks down everyone and everything in this movie, and as usual, doesn’t care. Does he step over the line sometimes? Maybe. There are a couple of moments in the film where you wonder if any thought is put into the humor he chooses to display, but the film is so simple, mostly witty, and entertaining, that one is willing to overlook these offenses in hindsight, even while they may be uncomfortable in an “oh, I can’t believe he went there” kind of way. There’s also the fact that Theron’s character of tough, gun-slinging woman still manages to be reduced to the victim who needs to be rescued by the leading man, which seems a bit out of character to what we’d initially been introduced to.

MacFarlane sells the lowly sheep farmer with low self esteem well. His earnestness and cynicism are a weird blend, but it works. The supporting cast is fantastic, playing to stereotypes of the wild west culture as we’ve come to know if from movies to great effect. Most of the funniest bits of humor in the film come from the randomness of its events and actions and its parody of the wild west and all its preconceptions and hyped grandeur are put in their place. The film is very aware of what it’s mocking and decides to play to that strength. No one is safe in this film and so the title fits it well.

Are there some parts that don’t work or fit? Yes. There are occasions where it tries too hard, but it ultimately functions in its own bubble without straying too far outside the lines. There hasn’t yet been a film this year that’s meant to be a comedy and plays out exactly how you want it to, with plenty of jokes, tongue-in-cheek, and bizarre humor to go around and make you laugh successfully. Seth MacFarlane gets to play in his own sandbox without making it too awkward as he did with his limitations and audience at the Oscars last year. If you enjoy his sense of humor and thought Ted was funny, then A Million Ways to Die in the West will be ultimately satisfying for you in a way most comedies this year haven’t.

 

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About Author

Mae is a Washington, DC-based film critic, entertainment journalist and Weekend Editor at Heroic Hollywood. A member of the Washington, DC Area Film Critics Association (WAFCA), she's a geek who loves discussing movies and TV. She is also a voting member of the Black Reel Awards. If she's not at the movies, she's catching up on her superhero TV-watching, usually with a glass of wine in hand.

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