Keith’s Movie Korner: ‘Next Goal Wins’ misses wide of the net

By Keith Walther | Rose Law Group Reporter

What should have been a feel-good inspirational film with a “Cool Runnings” type of vibe, ends up losing its identity amidst its goofiness and poor acting. Loosely based on the true story of the American Samoa soccer team, “Next Goal Wins” is the latest film from Oscar winner Taika Waititi (“Jojo Rabbit”). A heavy focus on comedy does provide some laughter throughout, but when the drama finally shows up, it feels disjointed and out of place.

After suffering the worst loss in FIFA history by a score of 31-0 in 2001 to Australia, American Samoa has been at the bottom of the world rankings ever since. Fast forward ten years, and the small island nation has recruited Thomas Rongen (Michael Fassbender) to be their next coach for the upcoming World Cup qualifiers. Coach Rongen has been fired from just about every team he’s ever coached, but the singular goal he’s been given is rather simple or so it seems, to score one goal in international play.

Unfortunately for the coach, the team does not possess the physical fitness or basic soccer abilities to compete at this level. Battling his own ego and inner demons, Coach Rongen quickly realizes his tactics of insulting, screaming, and throwing objects onto the pitch in an alcohol fueled rage are not helping his team of misfits improve. He’ll need to discover humility and vulnerability if he has any chance of turning this soccer program around for the better.

Writer/director Taika Waititi has created some wildly entertaining films in his career like “Thor: Ragnarok,” “Jojo Rabbit,” and “What We Do in the Shadows.” Sadly, he churns out his worst screenplay and film to date with “Next Goal Wins” that more closely resembles other bad soccer movies like “Ladybugs” and “Kicking and Screaming.” At least he is honest with his audience, beginning the film by speaking directly to the camera to let his viewers know that he takes great liberty with the retelling of this true story. In fact, he strays from the truth as often as possible, opting to set up more comedic moments than heartfelt insight into who these people really were. While he should get some credit for trying to be creative with making a more comedic driven sports film, Taika strays too far from the story’s heart, making the entire movie feel emptier and more disingenuous.

Taika’s lazy writing extends to his filming. He clearly has limited knowledge of how the sport of soccer is played as evidenced by the in-game action sequences, which were few and far between. At one point, one of soccer players just stops the ball in the middle of the game, closes his eyes to pray without any opposing players challenging him for the ball, and then finally kicks it. There were also instances where players were clearly offsides, but nothing was called. This culminates in an overly silly depiction of a professional soccer match that suspends reality with highly predictable outcomes.

Michael Fassbender, recently coming off one of his best performances in “The Killer,” struggles mightily as the star of “Next Goal Wins.” As the unorthodox coach, his sideline antics are completely forced, lacking any conviction and are completely out of sync with the events transpiring in the movie. There is a moment in the climactic match where he literally throws a Bobby Knight type of tantrum over one of his players missing a slide tackle. He then proceeds to quit the team for the third or fourth time, only to return moments later. His rollercoaster portrayal is goofy and disconnected, leaving the audience confused about the bipolar behavior.

The rest of the cast, particularly the actors who play the soccer players, are inexperienced and do very little to improve upon the poorly written screenplay. Veteran actress Elizabeth Moss and comedic actor Will Arnett are inconsequential in their underdeveloped roles. However, David Fane, who plays the former head coach provides some wonderful moments of levity with his comical line delivery.

Sadly, the string of disappointments in November continues. No doubt there are laughs to be had that yield some entertainment value, but the lackluster effort from Taika Waititi turns a winning story into a crippling defeat. “Next Goal Wins” earns Taika a yellow card, which does happen on occasion for most good filmmakers, just don’t earn a second one.

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November 2023