Next Goal Wins | TIFF 2023 | Review by: Stefano Bove
Next Goal Wins tells the story of the American Samoa National Soccer Team and their attempt to attain their goal of moving up just 1 spot in the fifa ranking from absolute dead last in the global ranking. The last time American Samoa played in an International game against Australia, they suffered the largest defeat in international soccer history with a whopping 31-0.
With the bar already to the floor, the organization decided they want to approach things differently for the upcoming qualifier and hire an off island coach for the very first time. Michael Fassbender plays Coach Thomas Rongen; the cast away coach of soccer whose only opportunity left is to coach the team that nobody wants. Coach Rongen is at the end of his career and desperately needs a win but his short temper and personal conflicts get in the way of his growth and everyone else's.
The people of American Samoa are a proud and hardworking people and Taika does a great job of representing this on screen. The team is basically at amateur level so many players need to work multiple jobs in order to afford to keep playing the sport they love. Coach Rongen experiences this for the first time having come from more competitive leagues where playing soccer is the full time job and players main focus. All of the characters are searching for the same thing, a sense of community, to have fun with each other and to have any expectations. The movie teaches us that this is the way of the Samoa people and it is something Coach Rongen will have to adapt too if he wants to succeed.
Behind Taika's humor, there is a really beautiful achievement that was definitely a much more dramatic situation but Taika compensates with a bit too much humor (ala Thor Love and Thunder) and diminishes everyone's potential character development to a joke. The film is supposed to be about the American Samoa team but Even the team does not fully get enough individual screen time to develop any other characters. The story mostly focuses on Fassbender and Kaimana, who plays Jaiyah Saelua in the film. Jaiyah is the first Transgender player to ever play an International qualifying game in soccer history. Kaimana is one of, if not the best part of the film with the portrayal of Jaiyah. Fassbender also delivered a solid performance but his script limited him to be a cranky, angry drunk as opposed to an actual coach and barely teaches the team anything. I also wish we saw some worthwhile on pitch training to reinforce the final act of the film.
I was really excited for this movie and for the most part, I enjoyed it. If you enjoy Taika's style of humor, It is still a fun and enjoyable film but I was left thinking the movie could have been much more impactful if it focused more on the sport and team building instead of selling out its characters for cheap laughs.
Review by: Stefano Bove
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