Rob Reviews "Next Goal Wins"
Soccer has become a bigger part of my consciousness over the last couple of years. From Ted Lasso to Welcome to Wrexham and even paying attention to our local MLS team in FC Dallas a bit, the stories within the sport truly fascinate me in a way that most other sports don’t. Add to that finding out about a narrative version of a 2014 documentary of the same name in Next Goal Wins and you have my attention. (Note: I am having issues locating the documentary for comparison, so I cannot do so in this particular review.)
Taika Waititi is already a guy that gets a pass with me for a number of reasons, but this telling of the 2001 American Samoa soccer team who is the worst national team in what seems like forever (you may remember that they lost 31-0 the year before; that is NOT a typo) is nothing short of a breath of fresh air in a year where there is so much darker and more intense storytelling out there. Michael Fassbender plays disgraced coach Thomas Rongen who is sent there as a last-ditch effort to get himself in the good graces of those who run the United States program who must also confront his own issues on multiple levels in a way that is both frustrating and endearing, which is a good thing here. He also has great chemistry with Oscar Knightley, who plays Tavita, the guy running the team from an administrative standpoint and becomes his de facto conscience when Rongen needs it the most alongside the rest of the team in a script that Waititi co-wrote with Iain Morris that is witty, fun, and inspiring even if you are not even a casual soccer fan. There is simply something about Tavita’s quest for just one goal that reminded me that small wins can be just as important as those more visible to others. Waititi himself even has a small role that is wonderful to see alongside other supporting roles by actors like Will Arnett, Elisabeth Moss, and Flight of the Conchords co-star Rhys Darby (one of my personal favorites).
The team personalities themselves are well-rounded in a way that almost anyone can find someone here to identify with. These characters all have depth and stories to tell, with the actors really owning not only their individual roles but also doing so with the understanding of how they fit in to the team AND the larger story. This entire film just felt natural in a way that made it seem like more of a reflection of what I imagine the documentary is and less of a “remake” narrative.
There are a lot of laugh-out-loud moments alongside the immense amount of heart in Next Goal Wins that makes this more than worth the time spent in the theater. If you are looking for something this holiday season that is fun for the whole family and will give you a bit of a break from the normal holiday fare, this is a great film to do that for you. Check it out as soon as you can!