The story of the infamously terrible American Samoa soccer team, known for a brutal 2001 FIFA match they lost 31-0

Taika Waititi co-writes and directs “Next Goal Wins,” a heartfelt story about a hapless soccer aka football team in the American Samoas whose “goal” is to just score one time.  Once.  Based upon the true story, Waititi casts Michael Fassbender in the lead role of Thomas Rongen, the US soccer coach with an inextinguishable anger and an equally destructive love of alcohol which got him fired and placed with the only team who would take him.  The pairing is initially like oil and water, but after it marinates with a few key added ingredients, this team and Rongen will be forever changed.

The story starts with an American Samoan Priest played, of course, by Waititi, who narrates the sordid Samoan soccer history to get us up to speed.  After Rongen is fired and lands in the gorgeously lush island, he meets the head of the Somoan Soccer League Tavita (Oscar Kightley) who could easily be related to Waititi just based on his speech style.  It was as if he became a puppet with the director his puppeteer.  Tavita introduces Rongen to the team of misfits who need to be ready for the World Cup qualifying game a mere 4 weeks away.  And the fun begins.

While Rongen drives the story forward, this is also a story of Jaiyah (Kaimana) who is in the process of transitioning from Johnny to Jaiyah.  She has a lot to overcome especially with Rongen’s jaded point of view.  As we see Rongen grow through a predictable narrative arc, Jaiyah’s got her own equally important story arc.  Of course, we also get a glimpse into the lives and talents of the other soccer players, but we are also privy to the Samoan culture and beliefs which are vital to the film.  This is the grounding force within a well-balanced dose of comedy and drama.

Fassbender with his blonde hair looks the part of a soccer coach and embodies this troubled man with a haunting past.  Finding his way evokes emotion as we become connected to this man who has lost his way.  Taking his hand to lead him is this tight-knit community who allows him to become a part of their world.  And Kaimana is striking throughout the film as we gain knowledge, understanding and love for who she is.  

If you’re looking for a predictable feel-good and uplifting movie, this is it.  Unfortunately, Waititi’s signature comedic style, word usage and even his articulation washes over every ounce of this film and most of its characters like an unexpected tsunami.  

3 Stars



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