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Review: The Polka King (Sundance) starring Jack Black

The Polka King (Sundance) starring Jack Black
01.26.2017
8 10

PLOT: The true story of Jan Lewan (Jack Black), a Pennsylvania Polka sensation who ran a $5 million ponzi scheme, to the complete ignorance of his wife (Jenny Slate) and best friend/ band-mate (Jason Schwartzman.

REVIEW: THE POLKA KING is so strange a tale, it could only be based on fact. Were it not, people would have written-off Maya Forbes (INFINITELY POLAR BEAR) and Wallace Wolodarsky’s film is too ridiculous to take seriously. But believe it or not, Jan Lewan is a real guy, and is just as nuts as how Jack Black plays him, a point driven home by archive footage played at the end of the film. As such, it can’t help but be remarkably compelling stuff.

jack black jason schwatzman the polka king

For star Jack Black, this is an interesting companion piece to his earlier true-crime pic, BERNIE, with this opting for a more heightened style, almost playing as a spoof of WOLF OF WALL STREET, with cocaine replaced by POLKA! Hey! Hey! Hey!

One thing that’s fascinating about THE POLKA KING is how defiantly Forbes and Wolodarksky, who co-wrote and directed, are on Lewan’s side throughout. While the prospect of them glorifying a man who ripped off his elderly friends may be unseemly, it can’t be denied Lewan, while undoubtedly a sociopath, is a compelling, almost lovable lead - at least he is the way Black plays him. While no doubt greedy, Lewan’s schemes are so outrageous (and true) you can’t help but admire him in a twisted way. One scheme even involves him getting a papal audience, which he manages to pull off, while others exist to keep together his beloved polka band, with members including Jason Schwartzman as his mufti-instrumentalist, Mickey Pizzazz, and Vanessa Bayer as the shifty mascot, Binki Bear.

jack black  the polka king

Black chews lots of scenery here, with his comic Polish accent way more exaggerated than Lewan’s own was. The energy he puts into the performance is perfectly tailored to the part, and Black’s also good at conveying a certain naivety, making Lewan’s schemes more palatable. Jenny Slate is well-cast as his wife, a former beauty queen whose obsession with winning a local pageant kicks off Lewan’s downfall. Jacki Weaver plays her mom, seemingly the only one not under Lewan’s spell (she also has a torrid love scene with Schwartzman), meaning for much of the film she’s the antagonist, even though morally, she’s got the high road. J.B. Smoove also has a fun part, cast against type as a relatively straight-laced IRS auditor.

THE POLKA KING is a modest film, but it’s a strong follow-up to INFINITELY POLAR BEAR for Forbes, and while it’s maybe too out there to connect with the mainstream it could prove to be a popular streaming title, with one of those services likely an ideal home for this kind of star-driven tale. It’s utterly fascinating in how crazy Lewan’s story got, and the snappy pace and inspired comic performances make this a thoroughly enjoyable watch.

Source: JoBlo.com

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