Review by Dan Skip Allen
It's not a hidden fact that I love sports movies. It's one of my favorite genres of film, bar none. There is just something about a good sports movie. If done right, it gets you in the feels. Next Goal Wins, based on the 2014 documentary of the same name about the American Samoa soccer program, is directed by Taika Watiti (Jojo Rabbit, Thor: Ragnarok). And to no one’s surprise, his unique style of filmmaking is in full effect once again.
Thomas Rongon (Michael Fassbender) is a struggling soccer coach. He is brought to a meeting by the US Soccer Committee, where he is told he has two options. He must accept his fate of losing his job, or he can coach the American Samoa team, which has never won a game, let alone scored a single goal in the existence of their program. He reluctantly takes the latter, but he is not happy about it.
With Taika Watiti, you know he's going to bring the laughs as a director. He doesn't waste any time with that, as he uses a framing device to tell the story of the American Samoan soccer team. Commissioner Tavita (Oscar Knightley) just wants one goal from his team. He hopes this disgraced coach with tremendous potential can bring that out of his team. He knows it's a tall order, but he has a positive outlook on things. It is a little too positive for Fassbender's character’s liking. That's the kind of laugh-out-loud humor in this movie.
As someone who has coached basketball and American football in the past, I know how hard it is to get a team to come together for a common goal. That's where a lot of the humor comes from in this movie. The training sequences and tirades of Fassbender's character were gut-busting, to say the least. I couldn't stop laughing at how funny this film was. One scene that had me in stitches was when Tavita lost a bet the previous season and had boobs drawn on his face. I know it's not nice to laugh at the misery of others, but I couldn't help myself. Waitti knew where to put a funny line of dialogue or a moment of slapstick comedy. This is a masterful depiction of how to do a true comedy.
Also, with the comedy, there is a heart to this movie. Sports films usually pull on the heartstrings, and this one is no different than others in that regard. The downtrodden nature of this team and its history is ripe for the pickings as a true comeback story. Add in Fassbender's character woes, and you have a two-sided coin of tough things to overcome. Both of these things needed each other to succeed, and that's why this story works so well. Throw in some other character development from some supporting characters, and you have a sweet underdog story, a la Cool Runnings.
With sports movies, a key thing to make them look authentic is if the sport focused on in the film is played realistically. I am not a soccer expert, but I do watch it religiously on weekends when I have time. For a movie, I felt like the soccer was authentic. The characters moved the ball up and down the various fields they played on in games or practice. These actors genuinely looked like they could play the game from my limited perspective. That was a good part of the movie for me. I would have been completely thrown off if the soccer was performed badly.
Michael Fassbender is the star of this film. He's the draw, but Waititi surrounded him with a supporting cast that was quite hilarious, to say the least. Will Arnett and Rhys Darby were both funny, and the actors who played the players on the team were genuine in their portrayals of these real players on the team. Another standout is Kiamana, who plays Jaiyah, a trans member of the team, and brings an important element of emotional grounding to the story.
Next Goal Wins is a hilarious crowd-pleaser by any standards. It had me laughing throughout. Not at the obscurity, but at the verbiage and dialogue from so many characters. Fassbender played it relatively straight, while others brought the laughs. He was equally good as this fish-out-of-water coach, surrounded by a culture he didn't truly understand. The soccer was played very well, and the overall story had me emotionally invested in it from beginning to end. I loved this movie. There is nothing more I can say. Even an inspiring half-time speech was brilliantly done by Fassbender and Watiti.
Next Goal Wins hits theaters on November 17.