The Polka King (2017)

  • Time: 95 min
  • Genre: Biography | Comedy | Drama
  • Director: Maya Forbes, Wallace Wolodarsky
  • Cast: Jenny Slate, Jack Black, Jason Schwartzman


Local Pennsylvania polka legend Jan Lewan develops a plan to get rich that shocks his fans and lands him in jail.

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  • Incredibly based on a true story, The Polka King stars Jack Black as Jan Lewan, who emigrated from Poland to chase the American Dream and ended up swindling his elderly fans out of millions.

    An outlandish but endlessly endearing figure, Jan was a grade-A hustler and showman, married to former beauty queen Marla (Jenny Slate), whose nagging mother Barb (Jacki Weaver) lives with them and their son David (Robert Capron). In addition to being the adored “Polka King of Pennsylvania,” Jan also runs a gift shop, delivers pizza on the side, and solicits investments from his fans who want to see him create his “empire” which he says will encompass his various pipe dreams. Unfortunately, Jan has neglected to register any of his businesses and he’s soon visited by a Securities and Exchange Commission representative (J.B. Smoove), who informs him he has to return all the money to his investors. Just when Jan believes he’s on the brink of financial ruin and his dream is about to collapse, he receives a bigger investment from two of his most loyal fans and gets the idea to shut down his first investment scheme and start another.

    Next time we see Jan, he’s more on top of the world than ever. He and his band are performing to larger audiences, he’s more flamboyantly costumed, he’s raking in more investments, and he’s even managed to pull off a “private audience with the Pope” for those who signed up for one of his European tour packages. Naturally, he’s soon headed for a fall, especially after he bribes to secure the Mrs. Pennsylvania crown for Marla and Barb’s suspicions about his shady dealings are renewed.

    Based on John Mikulak and Joshua Von Brown’s documentary The Man Who Would Be Polka King, the film jettisons the darker aspects of the material in favour of an almost mockumentary feel. This results in rendering Jan to be the world’s sweetest con man and brooks no argument that there was deliberate malice on his part. If anything, he comes off close to an Oprah-like character – one intent on spreading optimism and goodwill and exhorting people to be better versions of themselves. To wit: Jan’s best friend and sidekick, clarinet player Mickey (Jason Schwartzman) who, with Jan’s urging, takes on the more extroverted moniker of “Mickey Pizzazz.” Yet even with that rechristening, there could have been more of a hint that Jan was playing on his friend’s insecurities to deter him from exposing Jan as a fraud.

    In any case, the film rolls merrily along, buoyed by sharp turns from Slate and Weaver and a pitch-perfect central performance from Black, who deftly tempers the cartoonish with the heartfelt.

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