Film Critique: Taika Waititi’s ‘Next Goal Wins’ – Charming Yet Unremarkable

by Madison Thomas
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Taika Waititi's Next Goal Wins Review

“Next Goal Wins” features a soccer coach from a distant place, taking charge of an underperforming team. He’s out of his element and seemingly unsuitable for the role, yet manages to lead the team to a feel-good conclusion. This might remind you of “Ted Lasso,” but it’s only a superficial resemblance.

Directed by Taika Waititi – known for “Thor: Love and Thunder” and “Jojo Rabbit” – this film presents itself as a sports movie that paradoxically isn’t one, diverging significantly from the approach taken by Jason Sudeikis in his television show.

Based on a true story, “Next Goal Wins” stars Michael Fassbender as a disillusioned Dutch-American soccer coach tasked with reviving the fortunes of the American Samoa national team, aiming to qualify for the 2014 FIFA World Cup. The team, infamous for a historic 31-0 defeat to Australia, struggles to overcome their underdog status.

Waititi, alongside co-writer Iain Morris, adapted the film from a 2014 British documentary. The story, ripe with cultural clashes and themes of overcoming adversity, clearly appealed to Waititi’s sensibilities.

In Waititi’s rendition, the film morphs into a messy, eccentric comedy peppered with pop culture references, echoing other sports movies but lacking depth. Its light-hearted nature contrasts sharply with more profound films like “Bend it like Beckham.”

Waititi even casts himself as a priest in American Samoa, humorously setting the tone for a narrative that’s more about surprise than sorrow.

Fassbender portrays a character starkly different from Lasso – internally broken, externally abrasive, and arrogant. Tasked with reviving his career with a challenging assignment, he offers little in terms of wisdom, instead resorting to harsh tactics. The local community views him with skepticism, with one remarking on his foreignness.

American Samoa, with its noble people and pure-hearted culture, eventually facilitates the coach’s redemption, bordering on clichéd film tropes.

The script misses a chance to delve into the tension between the relentless pursuit of victory and the joy of sportsmanship, opting instead for quick montages of team spirit.

True to Waititi’s style, the film is scattered with various pop culture nods, which at times feel more like directorial quirks than narrative necessities.

The film also ambiguously mocks the islanders, depicting them in somewhat stereotypical roles, such as a character using makeshift props to mimic technology.

The highlight of “Next Goal Wins” is its portrayal of Jaiyah Saelua, the first nonbinary player in a men’s FIFA qualifier, portrayed with sincerity and warmth by nonbinary actor Kaimana. The team’s interaction with Saelua is a genuine, heartwarming element of the film.

While there are commendable performances from Oscar Kightley, Will Arnett, and Elisabeth Moss, it’s Fassbender who carries the film, overcoming an inconsistent accent and initial doubts about his casting.

“Next Goal Wins,” released by Searchlight Pictures and rated PG-13 for some strong language and crude content, runs for 103 minutes and earns a modest two out of four stars.

MPAA Definition of PG-13: Parents are strongly advised. Some content may be unsuitable for children under 13.

For more information: https://www.searchlightpictures.com/next-goal-wins

Follow Mark Kennedy at http://twitter.com/KennedyTwits

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about Taika Waititi’s Next Goal Wins Review

What is the premise of Taika Waititi’s ‘Next Goal Wins’?

‘Next Goal Wins’ is a film directed by Taika Waititi about a Dutch-American soccer coach, played by Michael Fassbender, who takes on the challenge of leading the struggling American Samoa national team in their quest to qualify for the 2014 FIFA World Cup. The film is inspired by true events and is based on a 2014 British documentary of the same name.

How does ‘Next Goal Wins’ differ from traditional sports movies?

While ‘Next Goal Wins’ is set in the world of sports, it diverges from traditional sports movies by adopting a comedic, quirky tone. Director Taika Waititi infuses the film with pop culture references and humor, focusing less on the sports aspect and more on character interactions and cultural clashes.

Who stars in ‘Next Goal Wins’ and what are their roles?

‘Next Goal Wins’ stars Michael Fassbender as the main character, a disillusioned Dutch-American soccer coach. The film also features notable performances from Oscar Kightley, Will Arnett, and Elisabeth Moss. Additionally, it includes a significant portrayal by nonbinary actor Kaimana, who plays Jaiyah Saelua, the first nonbinary player in a men’s FIFA qualifier.

What themes does ‘Next Goal Wins’ explore?

The film explores themes such as overcoming adversity, cultural differences, and the importance of embracing diversity. It also touches on the conflict between the drive to win and the pure enjoyment of the sport, although it doesn’t delve deeply into these aspects.

How has ‘Next Goal Wins’ been received critically?

‘Next Goal Wins’ has received a mixed reception. While it has been praised for its charming elements and the genuine portrayal of Jaiyah Saelua, critics have noted its lack of depth and reliance on clichés. The film has been described as a “sweet, frothy diversion” but one that doesn’t leave a lasting impact.

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