THE POLKA KING (NETFLIX) (2017)
SYNOPSIS: Determined to make it big in America, Polish-born band leader Jan Lewan draws his fans into a Ponzi scheme in this comedy based on a true story.
With such a cheesy title, you might wonder what exactly is The Polka King all about? Well, just think of it as a milder, kid-friendly version of The Wolf of Wall Street.
Polish immigrant Jan Lewan (Jack Black) believes anyone can make it in American, the land of dreams. He makes his living mostly by touring with his ever-growing band doing polka music to the elderly crowd and he also runs a modest gift shop selling polish souvenirs. As his dreams grow bigger and his expenses increasing, Lewan hatched a scheme to lure the rich old folks to invest in his company by promising an attractive 12 percent returns compared to a measly 3 percent from the banks.
Directed and written by Maya Forbes and Wallace Wolodarsky (Monsters vs Aliens, Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Dog Days), The Polka King is more of a screwball comedy than a fully developed biography of a real-life criminal. It’s hugely entertaining and perhaps it’s the ongoing funny music that keeps your toes tapping from start to finish that you forgot there isn’t much elaboration on how Lewan’s Ponzi scheme actually works.
To be fair, Forbes and Wolodarsky is no Martin Scorsese and definitely, they don’t really need to mimic the master and most important of all, they have Jack Black the ever-consummate actor and comedian. Black easily commands the screen with his charm, flawless song routines and accented English. Maybe it’s the wafer thin script or maybe it’s Black’s talents that make the character of Jan or Yan Lewan more sympathetic than awful.
Though it’s hard to upstage Black in the same screen, he is joined by a superb Jenny Slate (Gifted) who plays his wife Marla, a woman who desires to be known more than just plain Mrs Lewan. Notably later on in a stand out, laugh-out-loud sequence, we see Slate parading clumsily in a beauty pageant contest. Other familiar faces include Wes Anderson’s frequent collaborator, Jason Schwartzman playing Lewan’s co-musician, Mickey “Pizzazz” and a fantastic Jacki Weaver playing Lewan’s no-nonsense mother-in-law.
The Polka King is no in-depthlook into the character of Jan Lewan though he certainly led a colorful life including being nominated for a Grammy for best polka album. The fast-paced comedy does its obligatory bits to deliver but the performance of Jack Black, for better or worse becomes the soul of the entire movie surpassing the fact that it’s based on actual events and a real person.
Review by Linus Tee