The Polka King is available on Netflix on January 12th.
By Chris Flanagan
The Polka King focuses on the bizarrely true story of Jan Lewan, the self-proclaimed Pennsylvania king of Polka, as he seeks to grasp the American dream of becoming rich and famous but instead enters into the role of conductor to an all too attractive Ponzi scheme, resulting in over 4 million dollars taken from elderly couples across 14 states. The strange thing is that even though Lewan is taking people’s money knowing he cannot pay them back you can’t help but root for him as he attempts to find success.
Jack Black plays Jan Lewan and at first, you aren’t sure if his impression is meant as farce or an actual attempt at a real impression. In fact, it wasn’t until the end credits where you actually get to hear the real Lewan that you realize that Black was spot on with his depiction of the polka king. Black is also supported by Jenny Slate as his wife, Marla Lewan, and Jason Schwartzman as his bandmate, Nicky. Both turn in good performances but the role that stood out most to me and ended up becoming my favorite of the entire movie was that of Jackie Weaver as Jan’s mother-in-law who also doubles as the movie’s voice of reason from the viewer’s perspective. She gets the best lines of the film and makes use of every single word.
Despite the serious subject matter, The Polka King is a comedy at its core, but a very dry and at times dark one. That doesn’t dissuade naturally funny moments from occurring, however, the real “humor” lies in the concept that everything depicted in this movie actually happened and that in and of itself is borderline hilarious. Even now, as I think back on some of the things Jan was able to have go his way makes me laugh in disbelief and the photos during the ending credits help support this insane story by reaffirming that we were only shown a portion of his incredible story.
But while the story is interesting and there are moments of humor throughout, the first two acts are relatively slow and undeveloped. For much of The Polka King, it like just another movie to have on in the background because while you knew it was eventually building to an intriguing climax the material that comes before is a rinse and repeat scenario of how Lewan actually obtained his money. This is funny in parts but is also predictable and I found myself wanting to skip ahead to the story’s resolution. All of that changes in the film’s third act as Lewan feels the walls closing in as his misdeeds begin to catch up to him the movie manages to milk a great amount of humor out of a very serious situation. I appreciated that gesture and it helped end the movie on a high note where you still came away rooting for Lewan and his American dream.
Ultimately, The Polka King is an unreal and crazy story that is actually true and while there are some truly funny parts, fairly good acting and some clever tricks with the camera the end product is nothing more than a nice Netflix watch on a cold evening when there’s nothing else to watch. That is not a dig at the movie, but the best possible frame I can place it in before you attempt to watch it.
I give The Polka King a C+.