The Polka King (2018) Review

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(The Polka King - 2018 - CC. Netflix)
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“You are amazing special lady that I love very much. But, no, I deal with on my own.” – Jan Lewan, The Polka King (2017). 

My past two reviews have been of Netflix specials, and both of those received the lowest possible rating of all. Still, it’s a new day, and of course, a new movie. This time maybe we’ll have a bit more hope in the form of a Jack Black led film. The Polka King sort of just dropped onto Netflix without any advertising or anything. I was browsing the new releases and then that just sort of appeared, so here we are.  

Jack Black is a very good actor, as is Jason Schwartzman and Jenny Slate, who are all major players in this film. To be honest I never honestly thought I’d see a film where Jack Black sings polka songs, but here we are. Surprisingly, Black gives a superb performance as Jan Lewan, the Polka King. What is further surprising is the fact that this is actually based off of a true story. I have seen Jack Black perform in many, many different roles. What I was not expecting however was his best performance to be in the form of a Polka King.

The supporting cast is great, but what the hell is this film actually about? (The Polka King – 2018 – CC. Netflix)

 Now let me just say that this film isn’t very good. The plot is very dumb no matter how true it is, and to be honest it’s not the most interesting biopic. See, for a biopic to work it needs to do two very simple things. It needs to stick to the facts, which, to give credit where it is due, The Polka King seems to do. The second, and possibly the most crucial piece of every biopic is that it does in fact have some interest. J. Edgar (2011) was one of the most criminally uninteresting films I have ever had to sit through. Why was that though? Because it just wasn’t a very interesting film, the facts were there, but they weren’t interesting. 

I had to take a break from writing this article and after leaving it a few days I am simply just as confused. What can I honestly say about this film that hasn’t already been said? Nothing has been said about this film to be fair. It is so difficult to review a film that is quite literally just in the middle of being good and bad. Black’s performance is great and so is the direction, but this is such an odd thing to make a biopic about. Truly, I have genuinely no clue what to say at this point. My fatally ill mind at the time of making these notes doesn’t help either, not at all.

There are many other interesting topics to feature in a biopic, however as far as Jan Lewan goes, I’m not sure what to say. To be honest I’m really not sure if I like him or not. A small part of me really likes him, Black presents him as a caring and kind man trying to bring out the best in his fans. On the other hand he plays his performance in a way that makes him out to be a high tier con artist. It’s rather heartwarming to see him have an impact on the people he tries to entertain, but at the same time it’s definitely

Jack Black’s performance is quite genuinely ludicrous (The Polka King – 2018 – CC. Netflix)

But if this film isn’t any good, what can really be said? There are some definite solid points to this film, especially the direction of Maya Forbes. Her direction throughout is solid, but the direction of a biopic isn’t something that can be focused on. Although a genuine talent, you can never really put cinematography and biopics together. Still, this is a shame though considering Forbes is a great talent. To give credit where it is due, Forbes is doing her absolute best to work with such a sub par script.

That’s one of the main problems with this film, the script could really use some work. Sure, I get that Jan Lewan had some clearly broken English, but Black’s performance was hindered by this. Some of the events that unfold throughout the film are genuinely unbelievable too. Now at this point I was going to mention their visit to The Pope, but they actually managed to visit him in reality, which genuinely surprises me. Regardless of that, there are some fairly nice setpieces within this film that would’ve been a lot better if it were given a higher production value. There’s honestly something very off-putting about the lighting and the set design of this film on the whole.

Verdict

There were quite simply two reasons for me watching The Polka King. The first was to see the performance of J.B. Smoove, who I enjoy seeing as a regular cast member of Curb Your Enthusiasm (2000 – Ongoing). My second reason for this may be a bit more shrouded than that. I’ve been meaning to bulk up my watched films as of late, and newer releases on Netflix definitely seem to be the best thing to watch currently. At this stage, I am looking for quantity over quality in what I watch, but not what I review. Which is why it is such a shame that The Polka King falls incredibly short.

Dull is never a word you should use to describe a film, yet here we are. Hidden in this film is some solid direction from Maya Forbes and an exceptional performance from Jack Black. While the first act is fun and full of laughs, the latter half of the film really drags, almost as if there wasn’t enough subject knowledge to fit into an hour and a half. I don’t think I’ve ever finished watching a film and felt so conflicted on my rating. To be honest, it is a genuine spectacle. Possibly one of the strangest films I have ever had the chance to sit down and view. A film where Jason Schwartzman insisting he be called “Mickey Pizzazz” should not be a bad film, yet it is. Not even Jack Black can save this sinking ship. It’s just a shame he didn’t abandon when he had the chance.


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Ewan Gleadow
I've been writing for various different places for roughly four or five years now. Currently focusing my writing on film reviews, politics and occasional game reviews. Hopefully you enjoy my work, be sure to contact me if you have any criticisms or praise.

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Jon V.
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All I cared about was that Jack Black was solid. Awesome. He never really disappoints. Watching him gives the feeling that he cares.

Connor
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Connor

Why can’t you focus on direction and cinematography in a biopic? What about films like the social network, the aviator, goodfellas, the imitation game, raging bull and lincoln? Even lawrence of arabia? Surely the direction is one of the main reasons why those fims are so well regarded?