Next Goal Wins was an incredibly quirky and delightful examination of one of the world’s worst national football teams and how they also helped the coach who came in to help them. Based on a true story and modified a bit for comedic and cinematic purposes, this was a story I thought I wasn’t going to enjoy nearly as much as I did and one that speaks to everyone who needs to slow down sometimes and gain new perspectives. As a football/soccer fan, I also couldn’t believe that a team could possibly be so horrible across the board, and I was ill prepared to learn just how poorly they tasted defeat in a record-breaking loss.
After losing his temper as coach and finding himself desperate to stay coaching football somewhere, Thomas Rongen (Michael Fassbender) is given the worst possible opportunity to coach the American Samoa national team who is known for their historic 31-0 loss to Australia. Working with club head Tavita (Oscar Knightley) and previous coach Ace (David Fane), Thomas aims to help the team achieve score just one goal, which will prove to be a herculean effort without the help of their best player Jaiyah (Kaimana) who is working towards transitioning. For Thomas to really be successful, he must forget what he knows and instead learn more about the people and the culture around him.
Color me surprised that I ended up really enjoying almost all of Taika Waititi’s latest work despite his best efforts to turn his own cameos into completely goofy bits that add nothing to the film. It’s so refreshing to see Waititi’s script, and the feeling of the film focused on the more obscure and wholesome aspects of the characters and team, finding a great balance of comedy among real dramatic stakes. Knowing nothing of the story going into it, I was impressed with how they handled the character of Jaiyah and showing how much the team supported her, even when others didn’t. It’s something that could’ve been handled indecently, but it felt like Waititi, and the actors really spent the time to create a great character arch that I think will impact audiences positively.
Next Goal Wins was an enjoyable experience to have in a packed theater that laughed along with all the great jokes and felt all the hopelessness the team was battling. The film moves a bit slowly in the middle, but it did feel important to spend some time focusing on the history of American Samoa and touching on the aspects of life there. While Michael Fassbender puts on a great performance, it’s Oscar Knightley and Kaimana who really stole the show with two very moving and wonderful performances. Kaimana especially shines in the film with her dramatic range and ability to go toe-to-toe with Fassbender from the jump, pushing him to up his game every step of the way. For fans of football/soccer and those who love touching and inspirational stories, Next Goal Wins is a can’t miss that also delivers some of sillier laughs of the year!
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