• Liz

The Polka King

Streaming on Netflix


Metadata: 2018 | TV-14 | 1h 34m

Genre: Biopic (Yeah? This is a biopic?)

Why did I watch it: I'm a Jenny Slate fangirl, and she was talking the movie up on Instagram. So why the heck not watch a true-life story about an egomaniacal polka musician? Also, I had a bunch of work to do and wanted something I could tune in and out of. Honestly, you could totally miss five minutes here and there and this movie would make about as much sense either way.

You might also like: When I described The Polka King to my sister, she immediately said, "Oh, it's like that movie where Jack Black marries a widower, right?" That movie is Bernie, and it's also on Netflix. Who knew he did two equally weird biographical comedies? 


Get your chicken dance arms ready.

I started and stopped this explanation multiple times because it's so dang hard to explain why a movie that isn't really that good of a movie has enough sporadic moments of magical genius that it's absolutely worth your time. First, there's the fantastic comedic talent. Jack Black is the most affable fraud you've ever met, Jenny Slate is the entrepreneur/wife/pageant queen we all wish would win, Jacki Weaver is the mother-in-law of your nightmares (dreams?), and Jason Schwartzman on clarinet is as good as he is in any Wes Anderson–written performance. Then, there's just the absurdness of the true story behind the movie. The Polka King is based on the moderate rise and very steep fall of Jan Lewan, the Wolf of Wall Street Polka Music, who defrauded some 400 people in 22 states of millions of dollars.

It's the bizarreness of Lewan's story that leaves us with the movie's high, low, and just-plain-outlandish notes. {Mild spoilers ahead!} Launching a polka-themed gift shop in a strip mall, getting nominated for a Grammy, taking a trip to Rome, meeting the Pope, bribing the judges of the Miss Pennsylvania pageant, getting stabbed in prison . . . these events might not seem to fit together in any cohesive way but you can't rewrite history, people! When critics complained about the unevenness of the film's narrative, it's like they forgot that director/writer Maya Forbes was working with a pretty uneven source text. Sure, there are moments when you want a little more believability. Whatever, though. This is a really wild movie about a polka con artist and that's enough for me. 


Enjoy the ride, y'all. This one is a trip! Liz


Who wouldn't steal a beauty pageant on behalf of Jenny Slate?

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© 2019 by Liz Crowley Webber