The Polka King

Critics Consensus

Despite moments of hilarity and a talented ensemble, discordant direction and a sloppy script keep The Polka King from truly singing.



Total Count: 35


Audience Score

User Ratings: 359
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Movie Info

In The Polka King, Jack Black stars as Jan Lewan, a Polish immigrant who became the "King of Pennsylvania Polka." A believer in the American Dream, Jan worked hard and dreamed bigger, but with big dreams come big mistakes. Based on a true story, the film, co-written and directed by Maya Forbes and Wally Wolodarsky, mixes comedy and tragedy showing the world's only known Polka Ponzi scheme. The Polka King co-stars Jenny Slate, Jason Schwartzman, Jacki Weaver, J.B. Smoove and Willie Garson.


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Critic Reviews for The Polka King

All Critics (35) | Top Critics (6) | Fresh (23) | Rotten (12)

Audience Reviews for The Polka King

  • Mar 08, 2018
    I don't really know much about polka music. Hell I don't really know any people that actually like this genre of music. I know millions of people like it, there's just no one in my life who has any appreciation for that type of music. I know Steve Urkel loved it, but Urkel is not a real person...or is he?!?!?! I'm not here to judge, if you like polka then you like polka. It's just not my cup of tea. Let's just say it's a bit of an acquired taste that skews a little (just a little) older. Moving on to this movie, I expect that this review is gonna be a tad repetitive, because this is a repetitive flick. I think the first thing that I need to point out is that I like Jack Black, I really do. But the first thing you'll notice right from the start is his accent. I don't know if it's because I've grown so used to his normal voice that his accent here comes across as a bit of a mockery. Like an SNL-type sketch or something. It's not like it's terrible, but it's wildly inconsistent. Sometimes it's fine, sometimes it's not. In spite of this, I think Jack is good in the role. He makes Jan Lewan into a likable character. Or likable enough at least, considering that he's defrauding his investors of their money. Being a Polish-born immigrant, all Jan wants is to achieve the American dream and give his family everything they deserve. He allows people to invest in his company even though legally he lacks the proper government paperwork to do so. Very early on, the government puts a stop to this and Jan give them his word that he'll stop. Naturally, of course, he doesn't and he created another company to continue taking investments from people. Investments that actually pay off for the people giving Jan their money. I'll point out the obvious first, I'm not certain about the timeline, but I'm fairly certain that the film's events track almost 2 decades of Jan's life. You wouldn't have noticed that due to the fact that none of the actors actually age one day. They don't even attempt to make the actors look a little older. Maybe they didn't have the budget to apply make-up to make the actors look like they're aging, but it's still weird to see the same m. Everything feels like it happens in about a period of months instead of YEARS. And that can be blamed entirely on the movie and their refusal to show any real progress in these characters' ages. The film is surprisingly short for something that's meant to cover close to 2 decades of Jan's life. Because of that, the story progression feels a little stilted. They give you the bullet points of Jan's life without really elaborating on them whatsoever. This happened, then that happened, then the government got involved and told Jan to stop, then Jan kept on taken investments, Jan took his investors to see the pope, his empire kept growing, then he bribed a beauty pageant so his wife would win, blah blah blah. Like they had a list that they had to check off in order to feel like they told Jan's story properly, but they never really truly explore Jan as a character past him just doing so to improve his and his family's standing in life. You don't even know why Jan decided to do this. His motivations are never explore past he just wants a better life for his own and his fellow band mates. Just felt like they could have done much more with this character and his unique perspective than what they ended up doing. That's why I feel the movie ends up being repetitive, because they always go back to scenes of people investing further money in his 'enterprise'. This is probably meant to show how much of a deeper hole he's digging himself into, but it doesn't feel satisfying whatsoever. I saw it once and the film repeating this scene where the money is a little higher each time doesn't provide any real additional details that I wouldn't have figured out on my own. Another issue is the film's tonal shifts. The tone is kept relatively light throughout, but there's some moments where it just feels unnecessarily serious because that's where they feel they have to go next. And I get that, but it could have been handled more adeptly than it was. Characterization leaves a lot to be desired. You don't really get to know much about any of the characters. The film's best bits involve Marla, Jan's wife. Then again, I love Jenny Slate, so I may be biased. But, honestly, the stuff with Marla wanting to enter the pageant to prove that she's just more than Mrs. Jan Lewan was easily the most enjoyable parts of the film. And they could have explored an interesting dynamic in that maybe Jan felt that his wife was not beautiful enough to win the pageant without a little help. But they don't actually explore that dynamic in the slightest. Once the bribery is revealed, the next major scene involves all of Jan's investors pulling their money out, since they don't want to be associated with a scandal. No follow-up and it's just incredibly disappointing. Just like the entire movie ends up being disappointing. They were merely concerned with telling you the facts about Jan Lewan's life and his crimes and that's it. They don't bother to go into any real, actual detail. And, if that was the point of it all, then why even bother? There's two documentaries on Jan's life (one of them on Netflix as we speak). I bet those cover the events that took place in more in-depth fashion that the biographical movie did. I will say that I didn't think the movie was bad. The supporting cast is strong, the musical numbers are entertaining enough and there's a certain likability to Jan that feels genuine to how the real man was able to con people into giving him millions of their dollars. But everything else is lacking. The narrative, basically, being an oversimplification of a compelling real-life story hurt this in the long run. Hell, one of the coolest moments in the entire film has to be when Jack Black, as Jan Lewan in a mid-credits scene, performs one of Lewan's post-prison release songs and, at a certain moment of the performance, they cut to footage of the real Jan Lewan picking up where Jack left off on the song. I mean the performance itself was sad in that no one in the crowd was really reacting to what was going on. But I still thought it was pretty cool and something that more of these music biographies should do. In closing, however, this is not bad but you'll definitely be left wanting more.
    Jesse O Super Reviewer
  • Feb 07, 2018
    The miracle of the casting director enlivens this slight but based-on-a-true-story tale of a immigrant entertainer who embraced America by operating a Ponzi scheme as a lucrative sideline. Jack Black surprises me for the second time this year and Jacki Weaver (an Aussie!) does a bang-up job as a New Jersey mother-in-law who doubts her daughter's choice in love. Slate and Schwartzman ably hold down the rest. Better than you might've expected ... and polka, no less.
    Kevin M. W Super Reviewer
  • Jan 24, 2018
    Jacki Weaver is every person I've ever strongly disliked in this world, but also she's mostly right about everything going on in this movie. Too much Year One, not enough Bernie.
    Philip P Super Reviewer
  • Jan 13, 2018
    I've always enjoyed watching films with Jack Black as the leading man, but his career has been pretty hit or miss in terms of good and bad content. Recently with Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle, he's been having a solid year, but I've been waiting for his classic performances to return. Not since films like High Fidelity, Shallow Hal, or School of Rock have I truly found myself loving him. That being said, I loved how he was committed to his role in the recent rendition of Jumanji and The Polka King only continues his recent devotion to acting. This is a film that completely came under the radar for me, but it's a pretty solid surprise. Now streaming on Netflix everywhere, here's why I think you should check out The Polka King. Exploring the craziness that ensued when one man wanted to create a so-called "Empire," The Polka King follows Jan Lewan as he does his best to find investors for his company, in order to tour the world, making tons of money. The only issues are that his touring hardly have him breaking even, while his investors continue to invest money, having him owing millions of dollars and spiraling out of control. More than anything, this was simply a fascinating watch, especially when having the knowledge that it's a true story. Polka itself isn't very interesting to me in terms of art mediums, but there was something about this film that hooked me from beginning to end. From humor to drama, The Polka King has it all. When Lewan is down on his luck, he enjoys finding the best in every situation and that makes for quite a few hilarious scenarios and I found myself audibly laughing on multiple occasions here. Jack Black, as I mentioned already, is a fantastic talent in term of comedy and he doesn't disappoint here. Jenny Slate as Lewan's wife is terrific as well and they share a strange chemistry that I was sort of surprised by. On top of these two great performances, I found myself loving Jason Schwartzman's contribution to this film as well, and I haven't really been blown away by any of his work in the past, so that's saying something from me. I may be slightly biased when giving my recommendation here because I'm the type of person who loves the meshing of multiple genres. When Comedies and Dramas are mixed together to make films like off-beat movies like 50/50 or Safety Not Guaranteed (just to name a couple), I feel that it's more relatable. Not everything in the world is dour and depressing and not everything is cheerful, so a nice blend of the two is always what draws me in more. The Polka King does a great job at making you laugh, but you also feel terrible for this guy, who steals everyone's money, but his heart's always in the right place. In the end, this is one of the better films to be released on Netflix in a while and I recommend it to those who're looking for a quick watch. At a breezy 90 minutes, this movie gives you comedy, drama, life lessons, and hope. There's not much more you could ask for from a movie like this. The one downside is that you can sort of predict where the film's going, even if you're unaware of the true story. It's the type of movie that's very solid and worth a watch, but won't ever be up for awards or even remembered for that matter. That's a shame because it's a nice little comedy that I believe deserves some attention.
    KJ P Super Reviewer

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