Based on a true story, The Polka King stars Jack Black as true-life Pennsylvania polka band leader Jan Lewan. Lewan was a self-made entrepreneur who was a musician, a business owner and an all-around good guy. He offered people the opportunity to invest in his operations and used that money to expand into new fields.
Except none of it was legal. At least not the investing part. When Lewan comes under investigation for fraud he panics, determined to keep his empire afloat. The movie also stars Jenny Slate as Marla, Lewan’s wife and Jason Schwartzman as Mickey, a musician in Lewan’s band and his best friend. Notably, the movie arrives on Netflix at the same time as the documentary showing the *actual* Lewan and detailing roughly the same events offered here.
As you would expect, Black shows up on the poster looking completely ridiculous and completely committed to the gag. He’s decked out in his polka regalia while Slate, dressed as a dancer or waitress or something, is on one side while Schwartzman plays clarinet while wearing a super-70s tux. Glitter and lights explode around them while the tagline promises us “The greatest scandal in polka history.”
When the trailer opens, Lewan is being interviewed by the local media about all the operations he manages, a success he used to dream of before he came to America. People are lining up to invest with him but the Feds come to tell him he has to give all that money back. He doesn’t have it, though, but keeps expecting new investments to keep things afloat. The fast pace of the second half of the trailer represents the stress he’s under to manage his fading empire and avoid prison.
It’s pretty funny and alright. I don’t think anything here is going to knock anyone’s socks off but it presents an amusing performance from Black as well as the supporting players surrounding him. That it’s based on real people and events adds an element of intrigue to the message, making it seem a bit more attractive than it otherwise might. The main attraction here is Black’s performance, though.
Online and Social
Nothing. Netflix has given the movie limited support on its brand social channels and doesn’t appear to have set up any new ones.
Advertising and Cross-Promotions
I think the trailer was used in a social ad or two around the time it was released and there may have been a few banner or square online ads run utilizing the key art, but that’s about it
Media and Publicity
The first bit of publicity came when it was announced the movie would have its official premiere at Sundance 2017. The whole cast and crew talked while there about making the movie, working with the rest of those involved, the story they were telling and more. Several months later Netflix picked the movie up for distribution.
Things were quiet for a good long while until the first song from the soundtrack was released, giving audiences a brief taste of what they could expect from the film.
There wasn’t really any sort of final press push from Black or anyone else. That’s not uncommon for Netflix films that aren’t huge prestige or otherwise strategically important and it’s likely in part because Black was just coming off the publicity circuit after promoting Jumanji.
Again, Netflix is selling this as a true story featuring a slightly over-the-top performance by Black. Understandably, given his name recognition and reputation, he’s at the center of the campaign from beginning to end. If you’re not a fan, there’s nothing here for you.
That makes it surprising the company didn’t try to emphasize some other aspect of the film, including it being based on an existing documentary Netflix has also acquired the rights to. I feel like offering some sort of secondary hook, or hitting the “based on a true story” beat a bit more firmly, could have increased the overall attractiveness of the message significantly.
Chris Thilk is a freelance writer and content strategist who lives in the Chicago suburbs.