King empire

Jack Black in ‘The Polka King’ is my problematic crush

Want to talk about problematic crushes? No, I’m not talking about MCU villains menacing the world with killer charisma. You can keep your leather-dyed bad boys and your debauched but wounded aristocrats. The man of my dreams is a Polka King. Specifically, I want the version of the extremely charismatic con man portrayed by Jack Black in the misunderstood 2017 film. The Polka King.

Co-written and directed by Maya Forbes, this comic biopic centers on Jan Lewan, a Polish immigrant turned Pennsylvania entrepreneur turned self-proclaimed Polka King turned convicted fraudster. The exploits of the real Jan Lewan were initially pleasant unfolded on a bar stool in the documentary The Man Who Would Be Polka King, which the Forbes film was based on. The real Jan Lewan is undoubtedly a cad, a man who tricked elderly investors into a polka Ponzi scheme with the irresistible allure of a flashy wardrobe, a dancing bear, Polish tchotchkes and a private audience with the pope. Yes, the Pope.

It’s a stranger-than-fiction story so thrilling that I recommend watching both films. Seeing how many lines Forbes and co-writer Wallace Wolodarsky pulled from the doc’s quirky interviews is fun enough to justify this DIY double feature. But today, I’m not here to defend these fantastic films. I’m here to present my defense because I have a crush on the fictional Jan Lewan.

It’s a tricky task to pick the debonair bandleader of the polka, who earned a Grammy nod and enchanted the entire Northeast PA. You need someone with a rugged charisma, a swagger as intense as it is inviting, the stage presence of a rock star but the physique of a couch potato. Part of Jan Lewan’s appeal was that he felt like a superstar who was genuinely down to earth, even though his head was firmly in the clouds. Simply put: Forbes needed Jack Black.

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As one half of the dynamic duo Tenacious D, Black has proven his rockstar chops time and time again, delivering outrageous songs that make any polka (or even a polka-rap) sound easy in his wheelhouse. He’s translated this showman swagger to the big screen time and time again, becoming not only a beloved star of children’s films, but also a lover worth swooning in. Vacations. During the pandemic, he blundered in his garden in suits. And where the “Imagine” video sparked anger, it drew a resurgence of fans who simply acknowledged: Jack Black is hot.

To quote another TikTok meme / Jack Black role (More precisely school of rock): “Once I get on stage, start doing my thing, people worship mebecause I am sexy and chubby, man.”

Black brings all his bravado into the character of Jan Lewan. So even if you see him lying to his investors, his family, and the government agents on his doorstep, you can’t help but wish things were okay for him. And look, his crimes were gruesome, plunging countless polka fans into financial disaster. But he did it for love!

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To others, Marla (Jenny Slate) was a “Mrs. Jan Lewan”, but to him she was his queen, the mother of his prince, and “My light, the love of my life, the one and only”. . In The Polka King, Jan lavishes Marla in adulation. When he commands a sprawling polka band and rowdy crowd, he orders the two to cheer him on. (“Ziggy Zaggy Ziggy Zaggy Oi Oi Oi!!!”) He works tirelessly to build their empire, which includes not only the touring band but also a novelty shop full of Polish trinkets. He defends her against her sneering mother (Jacki Weaver). He brings home the bacon and fry it in a pan, along with eggs and pancakes for the family breakfast. (Literally.) He is tirelessly optimistic and supportive. So when she wants to step out of his shadow and step into the spotlight at a local beauty pageant, he does everything he can to promote her rise to the catwalk…even if it means her downfall.

The hokey ’80s workout montage is getting a cheeky revival as Marla (Slate) prepares for the contest. The money earmarked for dresses, trips and accessories scrolls by to the rhythm of lively music. It’s not “Eye of the Tiger” or another traditionally inspirational jam that is his soundtrack. It is of course a love song, brilliantly interpreted by Jan (Black). But this is only the prelude. Jan will also rent buses (plural) to transport fans to her pageant, where they’ll be cheering her on as if it were the opening of the Hazeltown Onion Festival. After all this support, it’s not like Jan would allow her not to earn. He would do anything for her… whatever the cost.

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There will be no happy ending for these lovers, who were not – movie notes – partners in crime. Yet even though Jan’s over-the-top devotion turns heads, even as their family faces scorn and he faces criminal charges (and worse), I can’t help but regret the fantasy that pulsated so vividly that an entire community joined in with relish (and sauerkraut).

I can’t help but wish to be loved like only a Polka King can.

The Polka King is now streaming on Netflix.

The Man Who Would Be Polka King is available for rent on Youtube.