Starring: Jack Black, Jenny Slate, Jason Schwartzman
Director: Maya Forbes
Running Time: 95 mins
The Polka King is an American film about the true story of Jan Lewan, a keen entrepreneur who devises a plan to get rich, but soon finds himself in hot water with his friends, his investors, and the law.
The Polka King is one of those films that tells a remarkable story in fairly low-key fashion, but is absolutely brought to life by a plethora of hugely lovable performances, most of all from lead star Jack Black – who turns what could have been a bit of an irritating crime-comedy into a genuinely funny and often even touching tale of a man trying to make something out of nothing.
Maybe the comparison is completely mad, but there’s something about The Polka King that makes me think of it as The Wolf Of Wall Street, but if everyone was much politer. The extent of the fraud carried out by Jan Lewan – a true story too no less – is pretty despicable, but he, along with most of the people surrounding him, is just so likable and cuddly that it’s so easy to get sucked in by his schemes.
I hesitate to even call them schemes, because surely somebody so seemingly lovely on the outside couldn’t do something so awful. But that’s the great thing about this film, that it takes you through a classic crime story, but with such a likable lead performance, you find yourself siding almost entirely with a man who becomes the main anti-hero of it all.
Jack Black is an absolute delight from start to finish here. His smiley persona and polite demeanour really do whip you up in a spell, much like the people who continued to invest in his operations so willingly, only to be left short by his Ponzi scheme. But for much of the film, you don’t watch Jack Black as a villain trying to take other people’s money, but a victim of his own incompetence while trying to make a life for himself.
Jan Lewan’s story, as awful as the reality of it may have been, comes off as really rather inspiring in this case, although we also see the classic demonstration of the corruption of anybody – no matter how lovely they are – when the money begins to roll in.
In short, I really enjoyed The Polka King. A film that doesn’t seem like much on the surface, it’s an absolute delight to watch from start to finish, principally because of a fantastically lovable lead performance from Jack Black, who endears you so much to his character that you’ll be siding with a man who spends much of the film deceiving and stealing money from innocent people. So, that’s why I’m giving The Polka King a 7.5 overall.