Next Goal Wins – Review

“Next Goal Wins” presents a curious case study in the realm of sports cinema. Directed by Taika Waititi, known for his work on two “Thor” films and “Jojo Rabbit,” and co-written with Iain Morris of “The Inbetweeners” fame, this film explores the true story of the American Samoa football team’s journey from a staggering defeat to a shot at World Cup qualification. The question arises: Can a film be called formulaic if it’s rooted in real events? Waititi’s film provides a compelling response.

The Underdog Sports Movie Template

“Next Goal Wins” leverages the indestructible underdog sports movie template, a format that has propelled countless films to emotional heights. The movie almost seems like a test to this theory, pushing the boundaries of this genre to see if the template can still evoke tears and cheers, even when the film is, at best, competently made or, at worst, deeply irritating.

The Narrative and Stylistic Choices

Waititi’s distinctive style is evident from the start. A fourth-wall-breaking prologue introduces us to the story, balancing between truth and fiction. The narrative unfolds the humiliation and demoralization of the American Samoan team, leading to the arrival of Thomas Rongen, a character played with a mix of melancholy and abrasiveness by Michael Fassbender. The film navigates through familiar territories – the assembly of the team, their training, and their journey towards an unlikely triumph.

The Portrayal of American Samoa

Waititi’s portrayal of American Samoa bears the hallmarks of his comedic style, reminiscent of small-town comedies like “Doc Hollywood” and “My Cousin Vinny.” However, the film’s tone often oscillates, raising a mocking eyebrow at its own clichéd moments, a characteristic that could be perceived as either a clever commentary or a lack of genuine investment.

Characterization: Rongen and Saelua

Michael Fassbender’s Rongen dominates the narrative, a choice that, while central to the story, sidelines more potentially interesting perspectives from the local players. Rongen’s character arc, from a struggling coach to a figure of redemption, is layered but also controversial, particularly in his interactions with Jaiyah Saelua, played by Kaimana.

Saelua, a fa’afafine and a pioneering figure in sports, is a character based on a real-life player. Her representation in the film, while significant, often feels like an accessory to Rongen’s storyline. This decision, unfortunately, minimizes the potential impact of her unique and inspiring story.

Tackling Clichés and the White Savior Trope

“Next Goal Wins” is self-aware of its use of sports movie clichés, directly referencing films like “The Karate Kid” and “Any Given Sunday.” This approach can be seen as a meta-commentary on the genre. However, the film skirts dangerously close to the white savior narrative without fully challenging it, particularly in the portrayal of Rongen’s role in the team’s journey.

Emotional and Cinematic Impact

Despite its predictability and occasional tone-deaf moments, “Next Goal Wins” manages to resonate emotionally. The climax, where the team defies expectations, encapsulates the charm of underdog stories. The film showcases the power of such narratives to connect with audiences, regardless of their predictability.

Final Frame

“Next Goal Wins” is a testament to the enduring appeal of underdog sports films. It succeeds in engaging the audience emotionally, albeit through a familiar narrative. The film’s exploration of real events through a semi-comedic, semi-serious lens presents a unique take on the genre. However, it could have benefitted from a deeper exploration of its diverse characters, especially the local players, and a more critical approach to its use of clichés and tropes.

“Next Goal Wins” is a compelling watch for those who appreciate sports dramas and the timeless allure of the underdog story. For more in-depth movie reviews and insights into the world of cinema, visit

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