Released: 12th January 2018
Seen: 31st March 2018
“He plays Polka music!”
Jan Lewan (Played by Jack Black) wanted nothing more than to entertain, that was what he loved most ever since he was a young boy in Poland. So, he moved to America to seek his dream. He married a lovely woman named Marla (Played by Jenny Slate) and let Marla’s mother Barb (Played by Jacki Weaver) move in with them, mostly so that she could help look after their son David (Played by Robert Capron). Sadly for Jan, being a Polka King in a little town in Pennsylvania doesn’t pay the bills but he figures out a lesson that Max Bialystock perfected long before him… old people will give you large amounts of money if you just ask for it. He get’s investors and soon ends up accidentally running a Ponzi scheme that might just take the Polka King down.
This feels like it’s hitting a crossroads between The Producers and Wolf Of Wall Street. It’s based on an actual guy who actually was a polka legend and actually ended up starting a Ponzi scheme but they play it almost like a joke. It goes between these serious moments and then light-hearted scenes that feel like they’re in a different movie. The last 5-10 minutes of the film, in particular, is just such a tonal shift from everything else, like it’s a remnant of an earlier draft where this was a more serious movie. Plotlines just pop up out of nowhere without so much as a hint of foreshadowing or relevance, there’s an entire plotline with Marla in the last half an hour that has no real build up to it. Same with a pretty major moment for Barb and Mickey Pizzaz (Played by Jason Schwartzman), it’s meant to be important but it just comes out of nowhere.
While the film is based on real events, it’s actually inspired by a documentary called The Man Who Would Be Polka King which I may watch now because the story is very interesting but the way it’s been told here is just off for some reason. They want to make this bright fun comedy but it’s still about a real man who tricked real old people out of a lot of money, it’s a little hard to laugh at that.
“Come see me after show!”
Luckily for this film, the people portraying the characters are pretty good. Jack Black is basically just doing his regular Jack Black schtick but with a polish accent (Or at least, as close to a polish accent as Jack Black is capable of having), which is fine if we’re doing a broad comedy but this is also a biopic and it just doesn’t seem like it matches the performer in either look or in style. Jacki Weaver, on the other hand, is pushing so far into character that she’s hilarious, there are so many scenes where she’ll just scream about how Jan isn’t good enough for her daughter and it’s shockingly funny. The other actors are pretty good too, they’re not so amazing that it’s worthy of calling out, but they also don’t phone it in so there’s no reason to put them on blast. They’re OK, they’re not great but they’re OK.
They’re not helped or hindered by the script which has both positives and negatives. Some scenes are very cleverly written, a dinner scene with the main family really provides some great moments for the actors. Meanwhile, the opening of the film is pure exposition that no one could’ve delivered well. It’s a mixed bag with some strange pacing issues. Everything moves so quickly that by the time we get to the end it feels like they realised they had 30 minutes to fill so they had to make sure the final few scenes lasted as long as humanly possible. What was interesting about this film is the slow growth of the Ponzi scheme itself, how he got people onboard, where the money went… that’s a montage. That’s roughly how long we get with that key bit of info.
“You only have yourselves to blame!”
Speaking of montages, this film has the worst of them. There’s a training montage for Marla, who want’s to get into beauty pageants, and I swear to god they do a montage where the Marla and Jan are green-screened over random videos of blue light backgrounds. It looks like it was taken directly out of David Hasselhoff’s It’s A Real Good Feeling music video. I have nothing against looking like a David Hasselhoff video, I’m kind of obsessed with those things, but maybe that’s the wrong kind of aesthetic to imitate in your biopic.
There are a fair few shots in this film that seemed like they were poor choices honestly. From shots clearly done on a Steadicam that should’ve just been done with a tripod, to a weird transition between regular film footage and “TV” footage that is clearly just the same shot but with a filter applied when you want to make the transition, there aren’t any visual moments that truly stand out for a positive reason. I absolutely do not expect great moments in cinematography for a film called The Polka King, but it would be nice if they at least tried to do something visually interesting… in a good way, not in a “Polish David Hasselhoff” way.
While this film isn’t great by any standards, it’s not awful. It may have some problems but it’s filled with a weird charm that makes it kind of impossible to actually hate. It’s the kind of film you put on when you have a spare hour and a half and want some light fluffy entertainment that you’ll forget about the next day.
O-le, O-le O-le O-le.