Local Pennsylvania polka legend Jan Lewan (Jack Black) unwittingly develops a plan for his many elderly fans to invest in him, that turns out to be an illegal Ponzi scheme. Soon events start spiraling out of Jan’s control as he’s investigated for fraud, and people start to want their money back.
Amazingly ‘The Polka King‘ is based on a true story which makes Jan and his antics all the more strangely endearing. Because that’s the thing, Jan seems like a generally nice guy who enjoys making people happy with his music. He didn’t even realise his insurance scheme was illegal to begin with and when he did, he was already in too deep and didn’t know how he could fix it. There probably was an element of greed too as he enjoyed being able to get his clueless but lovely wife (Jenny Slate) anything she might want.
Jan and his story have a bit of the ‘American Dream’ about it. He’s a Polish immigrant who wants to make a better life for himself in America through his music but no matter how hard he works its never enough. He’s doing multiple jobs, has a shop and once played at 400 picnics in a year but until his fans started investing in him, he never really got anywhere.
‘The Polka King’ is funny and one of the nice things about it is that it doesn’t go for the easy or silly jokes, instead the humour comes from these larger than life characters portrayed by some great actors. Jack Black is brilliant here, he’s funny and charming, and even when he’s lying to everyone he still feels like a good guy at heart. Jason Schwartzman plays Jan’s bandmember Mickey Pizzazz and he’s also brilliant. Jacki Weaver as Jan’s mother in law is a standout as she’s the only one who thinks that Jan is up to no good but naturally no one believes her.
‘The Polka King’ does tread a fine line as it never sugar-coats Jan’s actions, but they could be treated more seriously at times, especially the amount of money vulnerable people trusted him with and subsequently lost. Jan, and the film itself, love the theatrics but while it all looks great on the surface, it never really looks behind Jan’s joyful appearance to see what’s really going on with him.
The story itself is pretty predictable but the script and performances make it more fun than you’d expect. Oh, and the music is ridiculously catchy, and you will probably be humming a polka tune long after the credits roll.
Directed by: Maya Forbes
Starring: Jack Black, Jenny Slate, Jason Schwartzman, Jacki Weaver