Whatever their place within German culture, film comedies exported from Germany are a relatively rare thing and another reason to buy into “Around the World With Netflix.” How else are we to know what Hollywood and recent history’s favorite villains find funny?
“How to be Really Bad,” or “Meine teuflisch gute Freundin” in German, could have been made most anywhere that high school comedies and laughers about The Devil might go over.
Remember Adam Sandler’s “Little Nicky?” Imagine that starring a cute redhead and set in a German high school. It’s like that.
Emma Bading (“In My Room,” “Different Kinds of Rain”) is the star, pale Lilith, the cruel and bored daughter of The Devil (Samuel Finzi), here depicted as a sharp-dressed man of finance running a sort of stock exchange of souls based in a modern black skyscraper in Berlin.
She tortures the minions and wishes for field work. Surely a year out turning sweet-spirited humans bad would do her good, she argues.
“I’ll give you a week,” Dad snaps back. And yes, everything sounds more menacing to American ears if it’s delivered in German.
She will stay with a hippy, eco-friendly and sweet-spirited family in Birkenbrunn. She will turn their daughter Greta (Janina Fautz) and anybody else she can from “nice” to “mean.” The only rule? “No physical contact” because Satan has no use for minions “in love.”
The Birnsteins are the sort of upbeat, progressive people who drive Devils and Deplorables nuts.
“So happy you’re here,” they bubble. “We’ll see about that” Lilith hisses back.
She’s here to chew licorice, kick ass and take souls. Lilith will badger and shame Greta, who wears dresses dresses knitted by her mother which Lilith thinks look like “oven cloth” (pot holders) and cause her classmates to label her “Miss Birkenstocks.”
She’s bullied, mocked and dismissed at school. Get her to notice this and “stand up for yourself” might be first step in her mean girl “makeover.”
Greta is innocent, sweetness and light, and her mother (Alwara Höfels) is heckbent on keeping her that way. A little teen rebellion is all it’ll take, Lilith figures.
Lilith’s efforts with Greta include ensuring her heart is broken by the class Lothario (Emilio Sakraya), which will turn her bitter. But then Lilith falls under the gaze of parkour-loving petty thief Samuel (Ludwig Simon), the class “Bad Boy.” Can she fight the urges her Hell-raised hormones are throwing at her?
The comedy spins out of the most obvious sources — Greta’s image change, in which Lilith lies to make her the most popular girl in school, even winning over the sexy aspiring mean girl singing duo “Pussy Deluxe” (Amina Merai and Matilda März), [ranks involving the headmaster (veteran character actor Johann von Bülow, the most-recognizable face in the cast), Lilith pummeling the headmaster’s son (Theo Threbs), who is also the class bully, and denying her first-ever attraction to Samuel.
The effects are simple enough — fire effects, Satanic changes in eye-color, feats of strength.
But the best laugh and most impressive effect here is Bading, a pale, red-headed (in this film) Satanic Emma Stone, eyes-narrowed, hair braided into top-knots that look like horns, setting her sights on mischief and mayhem.
She isn’t enough to pull “How to be Really Bad” off. But if you’ve been wondering about German humor, which Hollywood stereotyping preaches is in short supply, “How to Be Really Bad” suggests it’s there, and that it needs to move on from movie ideas that Adam Sandler would find funny, just like everybody else on Earth.
MPA Rating: TV-14, comic violence, smoking
Cast: Emma Bading, Janina Fautz, Ludwig Simon, Theo Threbs, Amina Merai, Johann von Bülow and Samuel Finzi
Credits: Directed by Marco Petry, script by Rochus Hahn and Marco Petry. based on a novel by Hortense Ullrich. A Wild Bunch Film on Netflix.
Running time: 1:40