Next Goal Wins, a biographical sports comedy-drama film, holds a grand and almost mythic story about a floundering team’s unlikely chance at success. Directed by Taika Waititi, the film tackles Dutch-American football coach Thomas Rongen’s effort to shape the American Samoa national team into a force to be reckoned with in football. However, the outcome leaves viewers hanging on the sidelines.
Based on the 2014 documentary by Mike Brett and Steve Jamison, Waititi combines elements of comedy and drama in a script co-written with Iain Morris, presenting an ambitious journey infused with charismatic performances, primarily from Michael Fassbender.
The plot leans into an age-old story about underdogs rising against adversity. We’ve seen these sports-centric, feel-good movies where the coach inspires a team of misfits. And to an extent, Next Goal Wins leans heavily on these familiar tropes without providing enough twists or intrigue to fully stand apart. It captures the inspirational and touching moments but seems afraid to stray from the path laid by its many predecessors. This predictable narrative arc mars what could have been a thrillingly unique and interesting journey.
One area where Next Goal Wins does strive for distinction is in its characterization of fa’afafine player Jaiyah Saelua, portrayed with nuanced sensitivity by Kaimana. Jaiyah’s character challenges societal and sports norms, marking the inclusion of the first transgender player in a World Cup game. The handling of this narrative thread, however, feels quite hit-and-miss. While it provides representation, it lacks a deeper exploration and often veers towards being sidelined by the primary sports story.
The performances by the ensemble cast add heart and vigor to the film. Michael Fassbender, as Rongen, shines through as a standout performer. He convincingly showcases the essence of a jaded coach filled with past regrets, stubborn, yet caring for his rag-tag team. However, despite his performance, the development of Rongen’s character remains disappointingly thin and fails to resonate deeply with viewers.
Supporting performances by Oscar Kightley as Tavita, David Fane as Ace, and Rachel House as Ruth give warmth to the film and boost the underlying theme of unity and diversity. Notable mentions go to Beulah Koale and Elisabeth Moss, who make their limited screen-time count.
In terms of its technical execution, Next Goal Wins visually balances comedy and drama but stumbles in places with its pacing. Cinematography is capable, but more artistic and emotive angles could have elevated the movie further. There are moments when the editing feels clunky, with comedic elements clumsily dovetailed with serious narratives. These faults chip away at what could have been a smoothly flowing movie.
Next Goal Wins, under Waititi’s direction, falters and then recovers as it straddles comedy, drama, and sports cliches. There are commendable efforts by Fassbender and the rest of the cast, but they’re marred by an undercooked plot that often takes the predictable path. While it paints a decent, enjoyable picture with some moments of genuine emotion, it fails to land a solid strike.
On the whole, Next Goal Wins will win some audiences over with its heartwarming moments and an amicable portrayal of an underdog team. Yet, it doesn’t pack enough depth or a unique spin to place it among the memorable sports films that resonate long after the final whistle.
The result is a film that lands solidly mid-table – an amusing watch that doesn’t manage to meet its ambitious goal, but neither is it the weakest film on the roster. It achieves some commendable moments, but when the full time whistle blows, Next Goal Wins feels like it has settled for a score-draw when it could have been pushing for the win.
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Next Goal Wins Review: A Moving Tale Hindered by Poor Execution
Acting - 7/10
Cinematography/Visual Effects - 6/10
Plot/Screenplay - 4.5/10
Setting/Theme - 5/10
Watchability - 6/10
Rewatchability - 4.5/10
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About Caillou Pettis
Caillou Pettis is a professional film critic and journalist as well as the author of While You Sleep, The Inspiring World of Horror: The Movies That Influenced Generations, and co-author of Out of Time: True Paranormal Encounters. He has been writing in the entertainment industry for over seven and a half years professionally. Throughout the years, he has written articles for publications including Gold Derby, Exclaim!, CBR, Awards Radar, Awards Watch, Flickering Myth, BRWC, Starburst Magazine, Punch Drunk Critics, Mediaversity Reviews, Vinyl Chapters, Northern Transmissions, and Beats Per Minute.