Next Goal Wins Taika Waititi TIFF review

Taika Waitit’s Next Goal Wins is disappointing as a sports movie and as a comedy

2 out of 5 stars

Taika Waititi’s Next Goal Wins disappoints both as a sports movie and as 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. ■

Taika Waitit’s Next Goal Wins is disappointing as a sports movie and as a comedy

Next Goal Wins is now playing in Montreal theatres. 

This review was originally published as part of a TIFF 2023 roundup.

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