Bizarre, entertaining, half-baked
|The true story behind The Polka King is disturbing; the movie is a comedy. While those two facts can be successfully juxtaposed, it often results in an unsettling feeling, that something is missing. The comedy isn’t as funny as it could be, the tragedy isn’t as revolting as it could be. The result is a good, but half-baked tragi-comedy, light on everything but the polka music.||2017 |
Directed by: Maya Forbes
Screenplay by: Maya Forbes, Wallace Wolodarsky
Starring: Jack Black, Jenny Slate
It seems like a given that Jack Black would be cast as polka legend Jan Lewan. He’s a larger-than-life, full-of-energy entertainer that had an (almost) incredible knack for concealing the dark truth. I love Black when he has a darkness to his sunny exterior, and that describes Lewan exactly. A character that I should have relished more than I did. Which brings us to the next dilemma, Black is endearing as Lewan, but too much time was spent connecting the audience to a character which we are actually supposed to despise. That conflict is built into the film on purpose, as that is the whole point of Jan Lewan – a charming entertainer who pulled people in just to swindle them later. But it’s also a difficult conflict to manage well.
At the beginning, Lewan is a Polish immigrant ready to embark on his American dream. Just wanting to find a way to turn his passion into a thriving business. Different from most American dream con-men is that Lewan wasn’t selfish about it, he wanted to help people and having money is the easiest way to do that. Polka music doesn’t bring in a lot of money and he has band members to pay, and people dressed up as animals to pay, and a tacky Polish souvenir shop which doesn’t bring in any money. Turns out it’s as easy as getting investors; illegally, of course.
There was a lot of polka music (Lewan was a determined performer above anything else) which is probably a necessity for a film trying to entertain instead of educate, but those scenes tended to slow down the film. The Polka King is at its best when Lewan is manically thinking of or trying to execute his next scheme. He’s not a smart man and everything that he got away with (for a short period of time at least) is shocking and that’s where the entertaining value of the film comes in. It packs a decent punch for its short run time but ultimately struggles with the pairing of hero and anti-hero.