Directed by: Taiki Waititi
Written by: Taiki Waititi, Iain Morris
Starring: Michael Fassbender, Oscar Kightley, Kaimana, David Fane, Will Arnett, Elisabeth Moss
Released: January 1, 2024
Grade: C+

Next Goal Wins

There’ll always be an audience for feel-good.  There are times when we want to go to the movies, relax with a beverage, and see good things happen to good people.  All the subplots are neatly wrapped up inside of two hours and the grinchy characters get what they deserve (or undergo a remarkable transformation).  Next Goal Wins, the latest from Oscar-winning filmmaker Taika Waititi (Jojo Rabbit) would be described as such.

There’s a backstory to the backstory.  In 2011, directors Mike Brett and Steve Jamison spent 14 weeks in American Samoa shooting a documentary (also called Next Goal Wins) as the local men’s soccer team tried to quality for the FIFA World Cup.  The team were ranked last in the world and, having never won a qualifying match in history, they’d brought in respected Dutch-American coach Thomas Rongen to turn their fortunes around.  The film took home the prize for best documentary at the 2014 British Independent Film Awards.

In the same manner as The Walk and Rescue Dawn, Next Goal Wins is a fictionalised movie based off a documentary.  Waititi and co-writer Iain Morris (The Inbetweeners) have given it the full Hollywood treatment.  The recognisable Michael Fassbender (Shame) steps into the shoes of the coach, jokes have been inserted at any opportunity, and the narrative coated in sugar to make it as sweet as possible.

It’s a structure we’ve seen used before in sporting flicks.  Fassbender’s character has taken the job with extreme reluctance and would rather be drinking booze (all forms) than coaching an inept group of misfits.  That is until he starts falling in love with the local community and bonding with the kind-hearted team members, each providing a subplot (one player is transgender for example).  It’s a tale where they help him as much as he helps them… and it culminates with a defining match against neighbouring Tonga.

As a fan of director Taika Waititi, I wish I liked this more.  It’s already such a great story (illustrated by the documentary) and I don’t know why they felt the need to embellish it further.  The likes of Will Arnett and Elisabeth Moss have been cast to boost the film’s appeal but their cameos are corny, contrived, and pointless.  Waititi is normally on point when balancing comedy and drama (see Boy or Hunt for the Wilderpeople) but he’s missed the mark here by skewing too much towards goof.  This is most evident when watching Fassbender overplay every emotional beat (subtlety doesn’t exist).

If looking for more authenticity with the subject matter, I’d suggest hunting down the original documentary on a streaming service.