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Release Date: 11/17/23 [Cinemas]
Genre: Comedy. Drama. Sport.

Studio: Searchlight Pictures.

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


Taika Waititi has made some of my favorite comedies in the last decade, yet the more time he has to showcase his mischievous personality outside of his filmmaking, he seems like an arrogant, insane auteur that forgot what made his craft so wonderful with recent offerings. What initially threw me off with Next Goal Wins was the fact that in an official promotional material for the film, Waititi spoke on how he didn’t understand soccer and by the end of filming, he still didn’t - in fact he may know less. This immediately irked me going into a film about that exact subject matter. The first ten minutes are especially tough to endure, but once the tone is established, it does have a decent flow, albeit one following a hollow narrative. 


The eccentric and unique soccer team are the soul of this film, with Michael Fassbender the connective tissue that brings back hope for the love of the game. When you have such fantastic character pieces as Apple TV+’s Ted Lasso out in the zeitgeist, displaying not just brilliant chemistry, comedy and relationships but a beautiful display of the sport itself, this film is extraordinary in its directorial flaws. What the rapid-fire writing makes up, this is clearly Waititi’s worst effort behind the camera within his indie filmmaking realm. It’s clear that the film isn’t about soccer, it’s about the comradery of the team itself and the nation of the American Samoa but it’s heart is severely severed with its overindulgent use of insincere humor. 


When asked what other Taika film compared to this, I instinctively went to Hunt for the Wilderpeople but truth be told, it’s only partially relatable to that title all the way down to its foundation. Then it’s built upon, with joke after joke in the same strained method as his latest MCU misfire. 


Michael Fassbender is a dramatic actor, he’s attempting to pull a type of Leslie Nielsen here amongst a cast of strongly accented screen partners that are able to replicate Taika’s notable New Zealand-style of comedy. Fassbender is really fantastic in his role, although a bit miscast in the role as any attempt at comedy from the performer is a massive swing and a miss. He’s supposed to bring with him the dramatic side of the storyline, a piece of the story that’s fairly obvious from the jump but manages to be one of the more sustainable moments of the film. Next Goal Wins does this tactic often, sacrificing its inspirational plot for bullet points of the futbol team’s failed beginnings to their eventual rise as a team; it's almost as though large chunks of this true story have been lifted from the narrative to forgo more of that “classic” Waititi humor. 


The team, the league and the coach behind it all seems like a genuinely inspirational backbone to this film but Taika’s over-the-top, although funny when it strikes properly, humor belittles an otherwise motivational tale. Under the hands of another filmmaker, this could’ve been quite something to inspire future footballers to never lose hope in their unique love of the game. It’s a lively, yet tiresome  comedy that’ll bring with it some genuine smiles and cheers, but it’s difficult not to wonder what could’ve been.  

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