The Polka King (2017)
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Critic Reviews for The Polka King
The Polka King is warm and sympathetic, avoiding easy jokes in favor of humane, character-driven humor.
The cast performs these scenes entertainingly-Black's dancing eyes remain as compelling as ever-without ever transcending how unfocused and flatly shot they are.
The sporadic magic of The Polka King largely comes from its casting, and the hammy performances that follow.
Audience Reviews for The Polka King
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.
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.
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.
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