Taika Waititi quickly became one of the hottest directors. This was further cemented when he made the jump to blockbusters with 'Thor: Ragnarok' and became one of the best-reviewed Marvel films of all time. Two years later he became an Academy Award nominee with 'Jojo Rabbit', but last year with 'Thor: Love and Thunder' the Waititi charm fell off somewhat. Now hoping to return more to his comedy roots, he's taking on a true story.
'Next Goal Wins' is the true story of the American Samoan national football team and their journey to no longer be the worst team in the world. After their first qualifying campaign for the FIFA World Cup in 2002 they had the worst loss in international Soccer history, losing 31 to 0 against Australia. In 2011 they plan to change history and when a U.S.-based coach, Thomas Rongen (Michael Fassbender, 'The Killer', 'X-Men' franchise), is forced to take on coaching them - though his tough coaching style might be just what they need to not only score their first goal, but potentially win their first match.
SWITCH: 'NEXT GOAL WINS' TRAILER
Like all the goals the team missed, 'Next Goal Wins' also misses the mark of the heart of the story - and that is the team. The film is too focused on the white man sent to coach them rather than the people of American Samoa. Thomas' story is not only uninteresting; he is just another man angry at the world and takes it out of everyone around him, leaving you unconcerned about his journey of redemption. There are attempts to depict the culture, but the film never balances the two elements and the story is weaker because of it.
It's also just a paint-by-numbers sports film, and even the humour in the "worst football team in history" feels downplayed and lacks a fun energy about it. These things again would have really benefited from more focus on the team, as every time they're on screen it's electric.
Like all the goals the team missed, 'Next Goal Wins' also misses the mark of the heart of the story - and that is the team.
The real star is Kaimana (feature debut), who is playing Jaiyah Saelua, the first-ever transgender player to compete in a World Cup qualifier game, a true sporting hero and legend and I'm so glad her story gets to be told on a larger scale. But for all the good the film does with her portrayal, there is one scene in particular that is truly dreadful - the coach deadnames her as a personal attack. Because there is no documentation of this happening in real life and its only purpose is so that it can contribute to Thomas' redemption arc makes its inclusion feels incredibly odd and disrespectful.
'Next Goal Wins' has a great premise, one that could have made for an incredibly funny and heartfelt underdog sports film, but it never lives up to it. Through odd story focus and so many missed goals, even though the finale match does work and is exciting to watch, the journey to the field was incredibly misguided.