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‘Next Goal Wins’ Scores With Comedy and Community

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Soccer. It’s the international sport known for its iconic black and white ball, and insane on-field dramatics. And for the longest time, soccer-related film and television was scarce, up till recent years. And if you’re a soccer fan, you binged Ted Lasso, or you became obsessed with the soccer anime Blue Lock, then you’re in luck again. Taika Waititi returns with another film, Next Goal Wins, a biographical sports comedy-drama that dives into the international soccer world. The film follows Thomas Rongen, a Dutch American soccer coach who was on the verge of being fired until he’s forced to take on the impossible task of training the American Samoa team, notorious for having the worst loss in soccer history. The goal? To transform the team into one that’s spectacular…and perhaps to find inner peace.

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The cast of NEXT GOAL WINS. Photo by Hilary Bronwyn Gayle. Courtesy of Searchlight Pictures. © 2023 Searchlight Pictures All Rights Reserved.

Next Goal Wins is far from an underdog story. Instead, it focuses on cherishing the small wins in life by setting small goals (no pun intended). While our main character, played by Michael Fassbender, is clearly apathetic and unstable in more ways than one, he is our vehicle in exploring the culture, beliefs and community of Pacific Islanders. While it is more common for westerners like Rongen to take pride in individualism and to stand out as much as possible, the people of American Samoa are the exact opposite, taking pride in the community they’ve made with one another and displaying genuine acceptance of others. The film especially dives into this theme with Jaiyah Saelua, a “faʻafafine” (nonbinary) and transgendered player portrayed by the wonderful Kaimana, whose character is a driving force throughout the film.

Kaimana and the cast of NEXT GOAL WINS. Photo by Hilary Bronwyn Gayle. Courtesy of Searchlight Pictures. © 2023 Searchlight Pictures All Rights Reserved.

Much of the film is naturally covered in comedy with well-timed jokes that can take some getting used to, particularly if you’re not familiar with Waititi’s sense of humor. And because Next Goal Wins takes place in American Samoa, there are quick and hilarious yet honest explanations regarding how the islands became US territory as it simultaneously pokes fun at colonizing countries. Waititi isn’t afraid to also innocently take a jab at Pacific Islander values and beliefs, focusing heavily on the religious aspect of many islanders of American Samoa, something that is all too common within the community which the film reassures is nothing to be ashamed of. But despite all the jokes and laughter, there is still heart and there is still tragedy. Throughout the film, we get to see snippets of Rongen’s past which ultimately comes together in the end and forces him to come to terms with trauma and grief. While it never excuses unwarranted behavior, it does at least push for growth within our main character while also setting him aside to focus on the real task at hand.

Beulah Koale, Michael Fassbender and the cast of NEXT GOAL WINS. Photo by Hilary Bronwyn Gayle. Courtesy of Searchlight Pictures.© 2023 Searchlight Pictures All Rights Reserved.

Regarding performances, Michael Fassbender as Thomas Rongen thankfully doesn’t reek of white savior energy. And while Fassbender relays an incredible brief arc regarding grief and acceptance, it isn’t quite the standout performance of the film. The star of Next Goal Wins is actually the entire cast portraying the American Samoa team, especially Oscar Knightley as Tavita and Kaimana as Jaiyah Saelua. It is with their comedic timing, and small character arcs that move the story forward to create an inspiring film. It isn’t often that we see stories of Pacific Islanders on the screen, and it’s beyond refreshing to be able to witness the chemistry within the cast and the family atmosphere amongst them all. It’s ultimately the American Samoa team that is the beating heart of the film which elevates the story into something bigger than all of us.

(From L-R): Hilo Pelesasa, Ioane Goodhue, Kaimana and Beulah Koale in NEXT GOAL WINS. Photo Courtesy of Searchlight Pictures.© 2023 Searchlight Pictures All Rights Reserved.

By recreating the story of the American Samoa soccer team with a little bit of Hollywood flair, Taika Waititi is able to share a part of himself, both in culture and in comedy. But more so, Next Goal Wins addresses life in its own unique way. The film stays firm in its belief that it isn’t about the loss. Rather, it’s about being open and honest with oneself, and taking the time to appreciate what can be done together as a team. And while the film absolutely has a similar feel to everyone’s favorite show about soccer, Next Goal Wins stays in its own lane and brings Pacific Islanders to the center stage, giving them all the time in the world to shine brighter than ever before.

Samosa Rating:  

Next Goal Wins receives 4 out of 5 Samosas.

Next Goal Wins is now playing in theaters.
Runtime: 1hr 44m

If you want even more film discussions, reviews, or just some good old recommendations, be sure to follow @samosasandpopcorn on TikTok!

Pooja Chand
Pooja Chand
Known on other platforms as Samosas and Popcorn, Pooja is a movie enthusiast topped with sprinkles of her love for TV. She can typically be found watching anything from the latest blockbuster movie to a feel good anime, and is always ready to start the discussion on movies and TV so you don't have to.

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