Director Taika Waititi, known for his eclectic filmography that ranges from Marvel’s Thor sequels to offbeat comedies involving vampires and Nazis, has ventured into the world of sports with his latest creation, the whimsical and fact-based sports movie, “Next Goal Wins.” While Waititi’s work is often associated with the unconventional, this film stands out for its conventional yet heartwarming approach. It’s a blend of the classic underdog story and fish-out-of-water narrative, set to make its debut in theaters before finding its home on streaming platforms.
A Change of Pace for Michael Fassbender
“Next Goal Wins” also marks a change of pace for the versatile actor Michael Fassbender, who takes on the role of Thomas Rongen, a soccer coach down on his luck, reluctantly accepting a job as the overseer of American Samoa’s struggling soccer team. Infamous for their inability to score goals, the team’s objective, set by their organizer (Oscar Kightley), is refreshingly simple – not to win but to merely score, something they have never accomplished in international play.
Fassbender’s tightly wound coach seems like an odd fit for an island where everyone adheres to a 20-mile-per-hour speed limit, and daily life halts for prayer at a predetermined time. Furthermore, the team is comprised of an assortment of eccentric characters, including a transgender player named Jaiyah (Kaimana). The film is set in the year 2011, and initially, Rongen has no idea how to handle this unique situation.
Apart from the soccer drama, the film introduces a subplot involving Rongen’s estranged wife, played by Elisabeth Moss, although her character feels underused in the grand scheme of the narrative. However, “Next Goal Wins,” which was actually filmed in Hawaii, primarily seeks to challenge the old adage that “winning is everything.”
Waititi’s Signature Style
Collaborating with co-writer Iain Morris, Waititi, who also makes a cameo appearance in the film, playfully subverts expectations. He injects the movie with his unique take on the classic locker-room pep talk and incorporates a training regimen reminiscent of “The Karate Kid” movies.
Ultimately, “Next Goal Wins” derives its modest charm from its unpretentiousness. While it boasts likable characters and picturesque settings, it maintains a light-hearted tone that makes it feel somewhat disposable. Nevertheless, the film and its creators deserve credit for taking a chance on this low-key effort. They acknowledge that although scoring with such material can be challenging, the only way to truly find out is to take the shot.
In conclusion, “Next Goal Wins” may not break new ground in the world of sports cinema, but it does offer a heartwarming and entertaining story of resilience and camaraderie. With Taika Waititi’s signature style, Michael Fassbender’s performance, and a cast of endearing characters, it’s a film that aims to remind us that sometimes, there’s more to life than just winning.