The Polka King

Movie review by
Renee Schonfeld, Common Sense Media
The Polka King Movie Poster Image
Comic portrait of real-life musician/con artist has cursing.
  • NR
  • 2018
  • 95 minutes

Parents say

age 10+
Based on 1 review

Kids say

age 11+
Based on 1 review

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

Positive Messages

Bad behavior will be punished, but the story doesn't fully take into account the misfortune caused by the central character.

Positive Role Models & Representations

A charismatic, supposedly naive character wreaks havoc on the rich elderly. He is, on the other hand, a loving husband, father, and friend. He enjoys making people happy but doesn't mind duping them. His victims are shown to be greedy, easy marks. Females are stereotypes (nagging mother-in-law; submissive, gullible wife). Some ethnic diversity.


Off-camera knifing results in blood-soaked man wheeled off on gurney; his throat has been slashed, but he recovers. Off-camera bus accident in which people are injured, one young man critically. An elderly woman and man are punched for comic effect.


Kissing. In a scene meant to be comedic, a married man and a single woman are shown in bed together, with mild foreplay.


One use each of "ass," "s--t," "bitch," and "f--k." Other expressions: "up the wazoo," "keep it in your pants," "pee pee only." A man is shown sitting on the toilet in his prison cell. 


Radio Shack, Patriot Disposal.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

A champagne toast.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that The Polka King is a movie based on the true story of Jan Lewan (Jack Black), a charismatic music man who took his popular Pennsylvania polka band to unexpected heights of popularity, including a 1995 Grammy nomination. At the same time, he took a greedy group of gullible "investors" on an unbelievable ride: They lost millions. Lewan is a duplicitous soul, but, as played by Black, he's unabashedly captivating. Expect some swearing (one use each of "s--t," "son of a bitch," "ass," and "f--k"), as well as a few racy expressions and a shot of a man sitting on a toilet in his prison cell. There's an off-camera bus accident and an off-camera stabbing, which result in images of a comatose patient and a bloody man getting medical aid. Despite the seriousness of the crimes committed -- a pyramid scheme that mostly targeted seniors -- the film is a played-straight, comic portrayal of an outrageous flimflam man and the equally exaggerated characters who surround him.

User Reviews

  • Parents say
  • Kids say
Adult Written bySamovi May 29, 2019

Reminded me of my childhood

I grew up when Jan Lewan was a big name in our area. I remember going to local festivals and how the old ladies would swoon over him as he threw hankies into th... Continue reading
Teen, 13 years old Written byhalobro January 16, 2018

Entertaining comedy has light language.

The Polka King stars Jack Black trying to build a “ polka empire “. The film is really funny at some points and you can see Jack Black is doing his all. Even t... Continue reading

What's the story?

During the final decades of the 20th century, Jan Lewan (Jack Black) is THE POLKA KING, the consummate showman. In the Pennsylvania circuit through which he travels with his stalwart band, Jan is famous and beloved. He has a devoted fan base, a devoted wife, Marla (Jenny Slate), and a loyal best friend, Mickey (Jason Schwartzman). Jan is joyful and ambitious, and he sparkles with an innocent grin and a bounce in every step. He envisions a future "polka empire," and his mini-mall gift shop is only the beginning. To expand, he needs money, and one-state polka bands and gift shops aren't enough to get him to "the big time." When two elderly fans hear about his ambition, they ask to invest in his future "empire." At first reluctant, and then quickly aware of the endless possibilities, Jan is thrilled. Not only will their money help The Polka King, he'll help them as well. Twelve percent! That's what he'll pay in interest. He assures the throngs of senior fans who want in that everyone will be a winner. And they are winners -- every last one of them. At least until they aren't. The 12% gets harder and harder to pay out, given the lifestyle Jan is living. Then there's the fact that his empire doesn't seem to be expanding. And, most critically, Jan just can't bear to see his wife's dream of being Mrs. Pennsylvania be dashed, so he makes a devastating mistake. To the astonishment of everyone, including Jan, The Polka King's "innocent scheme" begins to fall apart and the meltdown begins. 

Is it any good?

Jack Black, along with a bevy of other vanity-free performers, makes this satiric ode to an oddball scam artist both watchable and entertaining. True, the audience is laughing at, as well as with, the inherent shallowness and obliviousness of the central characters. And the film never deigns to consider the hardships that may have befallen the folks who were willing to fool themselves as easily as Jan Lewan fooled them. Still, The Polka King is one of those "stranger-than-fiction" true life tales that appeals to all of us who are sure we'd never fall for such a glaringly impossible scheme. Or would we?  The production is solid; the polka music is, well, polka music, but the creative team is judicious with it, so it goes down easily. A silly, outlandish tale, only more appealing because it (mostly) really happened.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the challenge of making a comedy about a criminal who hurt others. In this case, the victims weren't blameless; they were greedy, but they were still exploited. Did you have sympathy for them? Why or why not? Would The Polka King have worked if it wasn't funny? How does Black's portrayal affect your response?

  • How did the actresses playing Marla Lewan and her mom, Barb, transcend the usual stereotypes of "ditzy wife" and "nagging mother-in-law" to make those characters unique? What's meant by the expression "vanity-free" performance?

  • What's meant by the statement "You can't cheat an honest man"? How does it relate to victims in The Polka King

Movie details

Our editors recommend

For kids who love true stories

Themes & Topics

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