“Truth is stranger than fiction,” producer David Permut said about the new film “The Polka King” starring Jack Black, Jenny Slate, and Jackie Weaver. And he’s absolutely correct. In the 1990’s, a well-meaning, hard-working immigrant from Poland, barely making ends meet, devises an investment scheme that makes him millions. The problem? It’s a Ponzi scheme…A Polish Ponzi scheme. The first of its kind and probably the last.
Jan Lewan (Black), living in Pennsylvania, with his wife (Slate) and astute yet meaner than a junkyard dog mother-in-law (Weaver), wants nothing more than to make a living and play music to Polka lovers everywhere. The cost of doing this is greater than he can afford and more than his tchotchke gift store can fund. So he takes on a few investors in his “company,” eventually swindling trusting elderly members of the community out of approximately $5 million. If he sounds like a low-life criminal, you’d be wrong. This guy, as Black portrays him which according to the documentary “The Man Who Would Be Polka King,” is anything but that. He’s sweet and devoid of malice. He puts his family first…even that mother-in-law of his. The film takes us through the years of Lewan’s misdeeds, giving us an absolutely charming and hilarious look at a man who digs a deeper and deeper hole until there’s seemingly no escape. His escape, however, is even more hysterical! There is no way anyone could make this stuff up…truth is truly stranger than fiction.
The husband wife team of Maya Forbes and Wallace Wolodarsky (“Infinitely Polar Bear”), create and direct one of the most unusual and entertaining comedies of the last few years. There’s not a dull moment in the film as we watch Lewan and his family’s life unfold. Reportedly, Black, who jumped on this ship before Forbes and Wolodarsky had a single word written, had a hand in bringing Lewan to life on the screen. This combination of writing talent is the jackpot.
The role of Jan Lewan was made for Black. After his portrayal of “Bernie” in the film of the same name, Black seems to have a knack for playing unassuming criminals with no malice. His sense of comedic timing and physical comedy augments his situations with sublime simplicity. Slate finds a certain rhythm in her role as Lewan’s focused wife, making this odd couple one of the most unusual and entertaining duos to hit the screen. It’s difficult to think that anyone could be more well-suited to a role than Black as Lewan, but Weaver is simply stellar. She embodies the all-knowing, suspicious, Mrs. Kravitz-gone-bad relative, never trusting that son-in-law. She’s scary and hilarious all wrapped into one.
“The Polka King” is 95 minutes of complete entertainment, full of unexpected twists in turns that only real life could provide. It’s a roller coaster of a ride that you don’t want to end that somehow creates sympathy for a sweet man who happens to be a swindler as well. When you’re not laughing, your jaw is dropped as you just can’t believe what you’re seeing. And seeing is believing as this is a true story; albeit one that has the comedic genius of Jack Black behind it.
For more about this film, go to an interview with producer David Permut
Check out the trailer of the documentary of Jan Lewan here: