Friday 12 April 2024

Next Goal Wins (2023)

Presenting a fictionalised version of a story already presented to us in a documentary of the same name (a documentary I am now very keen to see), this is the story of the American Samoa football team and their attempt to turn their fortunes around after a brutal 31-0 defeat in the qualifying rounds for the 2002 World Cup.

Michael Fassbender is our lead, a washed up coach named Thomas Rongen. Rongen isn’t really known for his ability to shape winners. He is known for losing his temper. All that matters is that the American Samoa team feel like they are being given a shot though, even if the odds are majorly stacked against them. Rongen has to get used to the local way of life, and he has to get used to the idea that one of his better players (Jaiyah, played by Kaimana) is in a state of transition that everyone else accepts and appreciates.

I rattled off a quick bit of praise for this on social media as soon as the end credits had rolled, commenting on how much I enjoyed it and how it seemed to come along at a time when director Taika Waititi had/has fallen out of favour. To be clear here, whether or not you like this film doesn’t necessarily depend on your personal feelings about the Waititi, but this is, for me, a film that retains most of what I like about Waititi’s work without having too much of the baggage that now proves to be a bit irritating. For better or worse, he has become a celebrity director, which may explain why his cameo here feels like one of the weaker moments.

Overall, however, Waititi directs with his usual skill at handling the kind of gentle humour, weaving together predictable plot strands on the way to a third act where lessons are learned, obstacles are overcome, and viewers will be ready to smile, whatever the result of the final game of footie. The script, co-written by Waititi and Iain Morris, is everything you expect, although there’s the bonus of a real winning charm derived from the warmth and easygoing nature, and optimism, of the American Samoan people. The stakes aren’t too high either, which is pleasingly atypical, with the team still quite happy to celebrate their journey as they strive to score just one goal to show that they can.

Fassbender is very good in his main role, majorly grumpy and resentful of his lot in life as he hurtles to what we all hope will be a transformative experience. Kaimana is a delight, adding an important element to the team and the team spirit, her presence highlighting the focus on happiness and gratitude. Both Oscar Kightley and David Fane are great as individuals struggling to keep the football team as a viable entity, the former involved in a great little running joke that shows how many different hats he wears in his daily life, and Beulah Koale, Uli Latukefu, and the other main players get to have numerous memorable moments as they train hard to hopefully achieve a bit of on-pitch redemption. There are also small roles for the likes of Elisabeth Moss, Will Arnett, Rhys Darby, and Rachel House.

I really enjoyed this, but it’s something we’ve seen done in similar ways many times before. Think of any feelgood sports comedy drama and you will already know what to expect. It’s still worth a watch though, especially if you just want something easy to watch that will have you smiling throughout. 


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  1. It sounds a lot like "Cool Runnings" only less implausible in that it's soccer and not bobsledding. Something like this though I'd rather watch the documentary.

    1. Haha you're not wrong. Cool Runnings and The Mighty Ducks came to mind as I watched this. I really do need to see the documentary though.