Taika Waititi Next Goal Wins TIFF review

TIFF Reviews: New films from Taika Waititi, Nicolas Cage, Bill Skarsgård & more

Reviews of Next Goal Wins, Uproar, Dream Scenario, Last Summer and Boy Kills World.

The 2023 edition of the Toronto International Film Festival began on Sept. 7 and runs through Sept. 17.

Next Goal Wins

Next Goal Wins Taika Waititi TIFF review
Next Goal Wins

Taika Waititi’s Next Goal Wins disappoints both as a sports movie and a comedy. Based on a true underdog story, the film follows Coach Thomas Rongen (Michael Fassbender) as he attempts to transform the American Samoa football team, infamous for a 31–0 loss to Australia in 2001. While it offers occasional comedic moments, it struggles to capture the fervour that typically makes such narratives captivating. Inspired by Mike Brett and Steve Jamison’s documentary of the same name, the film unnecessarily deviates, injecting dramatic elements including Rongen’s personal issues. These tangential subplots disrupt the film’s rhythm and hinder viewer engagement. Fassbender’s portrayal of Rongen, a hot-tempered coach, feels out of sync with the context of the world’s worst soccer team.

Although Kaimana’s portrayal of Jaiyah, a fa’afafine player (men who identify as females, a term unique to Samoa), is commendable for its respectful representation of a transgender athlete within Samoan culture, the remaining team members are underdeveloped. Their lack of depth leaves the audience yearning for more fleshed-out characters. Regrettably, the film dedicates minimal screen time to actual soccer gameplay, instead emphasizing repetitive training sequences. While pivotal, the climactic qualifier match against Tonga feels condensed and lacks intensity.

Next Goal Wins highlights how Taika Waititi’s comedic tone and style is losing its charm, ultimately detracting from the film’s potential. While it manages to generate occasional laughter, it falters in maintaining narrative coherence and fostering meaningful emotions and character development. The film’s reliance on goofiness and a sitcom-like execution undermines the potential for a more emotionally resonant exploration of these characters and their extraordinary journey. While it’s worth watching for its sporadic humour, it falls short of capturing the depth and authenticity of the documentary. (Chico Peres Smith)

Next Goal Wins will be released in November 2023. 


Uproar TIFF review

Co-directed and co-written by Hamish Bennett, Paul Middleditch and Sonia Whiteman, Uproar fails to immerse the audience in the coming-of-age journey of Josh Waaka, a young Māori in 1981 New Zealand. The film, set against a politically charged backdrop, delves into his quest for identity and belonging while examining the enduring impact of assimilation and the ongoing struggles against colonial oppression. These themes draw striking parallels to contemporary movements like Land Back and various Indigenous and aboriginal rights initiatives.

Josh’s personal odyssey intertwined with the tumultuous South African rugby tour mirrors the cultural tensions in New Zealand. The film’s saving grace is Julian Dennison’s blend of witty comedic timing and emotionally charged performance, complemented by Rhys Darby’s charismatic portrayal of Josh’s teacher. While I appreciated the film’s historical context and the humour brought by Darby and Dennison, I ultimately found Uproar to be disappointingly basic. Its simplicity, preachiness, lack of subtext and reliance on clichés left me underwhelmed. The uninspired writing and direction placed the film in the realm of well-intentioned yet formulaic government-funded projects. It felt like the creators prioritized appeasing funding bodies over artistic integrity, resulting in an overly cautious and sometimes clichéd approach that failed to push creative boundaries.

Despite these shortcomings, Dennison and Darby’s chemistry gave the film a glimmer of hope. While Uproar admirably delves into vital cultural themes, its heavy-handed approach somewhat diminishes the impact it could have had. The film attempts to break free but falls short of achieving the memorable coming-of-age status it aspires to attain. (Chico Peres Smith)

Uproar does not currently have a release date. 

Dream Scenario

Dream Scenario Nicolas Cage TIFF review
Dream Scenario

Shot partially in Montreal, Dream Scenario stars Nicolas Cage as a professor who begins to appear in people’s dreams. As the film opens, his daughter is dreaming. She’s by a pool, and something horrific happens. Her father Paul Matthews (Cage) stands by and watches. As she recounts the events at the breakfast table the next morning, her father reassures her that in the “real” world, he’d help her. Paul is at a crossroads of his life and career; he’s just past middle-age, and though he’s a tenured professor, he has yet to achieve many of his goals. His voice is nasal, his confidence fragile. He yearns desperately to be special. Over the day, people start to notice him a little more. At first, it’s students whispering in his class. Next, it’s his hostess at a restaurant. Before long, for some mysterious reason, it turns out that he’s been popping up in people’s dreams, an ineffectual spectre. Overnight, he becomes an international social media star.

Dream Scenario half-works. Cage delivers one of his best performances as the fragile Paul Matthews, catapulting the film into a strange but believable world where entitlement drives him into despair and even ruin. The comedy is effective, notably as it contrasts expectations with reality (perfectly illustrated in some of the best fart gags in recent memory), and the absurdity of respect hinged solely on recognizability. As the film progresses, it takes on more satirical elements as it charts the inevitable downfall of a viral social media star. Though occasionally insightful, the film’s second half lacks some of the steam of the film’s set-up. It hits some relatively easy targets and maintains too much ambiguity to be taken seriously. (Justine Smith) 

Dream Scenario is scheduled for a Nov. 10 release date.

Last Summer

Last Summer TIFF review
Last Summer

As someone who occasionally moonlights as a pornographer, the setup of Catherine Breillat’s latest film, Last Summer, is all too familiar: a troubled stepson moves in with his sexy stepmom and they have an affair. For over 40 years, Breillat has delved into the realm of the erotic with films like A Real Young Girl, Fat Girl and Romance. Transgressive and brushing up against the pornographic (occasionally, though not in this case, featuring real sex), she’s delved into the thorny world of our deepest and darkest desires. Undoubtedly in conversation with the pornographic “NOTmoms” trend on tube sites, Breillat subverts and parodies our obsession with safe, flat and unchallenging erotic engagement with a compelling and occasionally hilarious depiction of cinematic Fauxcest.

Last Summer examines the power dynamics within sex and how youth, experience and gender intersect to create a messy soup of want and need. Anne (Léa Drucker) is a lawyer working with troubled kids. She has two adopted daughters and lives with her husband, his second marriage. She’s confident but bored, ripe to be “seduced” by her teenage stepson, Théo (Samuel Kircher) whose big move is showing her some anime. Midway through the film, Théo decides to interview her about her life. She confesses her biggest fear is to lose everything. As the central “romance” progresses, that becomes increasingly possible as it becomes more and more difficult to keep their affair under wraps. The way Breillat shoots sex stands in stark contrast to what we usually see these days; she keeps the camera close, and the characters are silent, their quickening breath a compelling map of desire. By avoiding the articulation of obvious taboos, Last Summer deals with desire within the imaginary rather than the concrete realm. The film’s tangled morality doesn’t offer easy answers or diagnosis but speaks to the messy philosophical underpinnings of eroticism within our lives. (Justine Smith)

Last Summer does not currently have a release date. 

Boy Kills World 

Boy Kills World TIFF review
Boy Kills World

Set in a dystopian future ruled by an oppressive regime, Boy Kills World stars Bill Skarsgård as the nameless titular boy. A deaf-mute who lives out in the forest from a young age, Boy undergoes extreme training as Shaman (Yayan Ruhian) prepares him for his one true purpose: to kill Hilda Van Der Koy (Famke Janssen), the delusional leader of this futuristic city. An action film that leans into blood and gore, Boy Kills World feels like an elaborate excuse to set up a series of action setpieces. Though “high concept,” the film lacks investment or curiosity in the world they’ve built. Vaguely critical of mass consumerism, the movie fails to commit to any real critical or cultural analysis. Fascism becomes little more than set decoration. The film’s final act, as the “truth” comes into focus, only makes these choices more baffling, as the “both sides” POV flattens the moral complexity of its proposal in the most uninteresting and vaguely offensive way.

Bad politics aside, the film doesn’t have particularly astonishing action or world-building that would make glossing over its bigger weaknesses easier. A lot of the action is underlit and difficult to follow (though this does seem to improve as the film continues). Having your main character speak only through an internal monologue is always risky, but in this case, the voiceover delivery is flat and grating. The jokey cadence only half comes through, emphasizing the lack of comedic writing overall. Only Jessica Rothe, as June 27th (that’s her character name), a helmeted super-fighter, and Brett Gelman, a pathetic aspiring writer, manage to make any real mark. If the film has fleeting moments that are unexpected, funny or shocking, they’re ultimately drowned out by its lack of commitment and overtly long runtime. (Justine Smith)

Boy Kills World does not currently have a release date. 

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