'Next Goal Wins' Scores Crowd-Pleasing Cheers

Directed by Taika Waititi

Starring Michael Fassbender, Oscar Kightley, Kaimana, David Fane, Beulah Koale, Rachel House, Elisabeth Moss, Will Arnett

Photo courtesy of TIFF

BY Rachel HoPublished Nov 15, 2023

Taika Waititi returned to TIFF with the world premiere of his latest film, presenting it as a tonic to the typically heavy festival options. Adapted from Mike Brett and Steve Jamison's documentary of the same name, Next Goal Wins is the ultimate crowd-pleaser, supplying laughs, tears and cheers in a truly remarkable underdog story that will captivate any audience. 

The movie follows the efforts of failed Dutch-American footballer Thomas Rongen (Michael Fassbender) to bring American Samoa their first-ever goal scored in an international football match. Quick to temper, Rongen's on-pitch antics have landed him without a job in the US, forcing him to fly to American Samoa and take on this hopeless task. 

By Waititi's own admission, Next Goal Wins dramatizes and twists the truth of the actual events. ("Go watch the documentary," was his advice to those looking for an accurate depiction.) One-liners and comedic gags abound under Waititi's particular brand of humour, and Next Goal Wins becomes the light-hearted, charming and completely unserious sports movie we expect from the director. 

Responsible for much of the comedy is Oscar Kightley playing Tavita, the head of the Football Federation American Samoa. Kightley delivers each humorous beat with an infectious rhythm and embodies the good-guy-authority-figure perfectly.

While the entire football team is cast well, it's strangely Fassbender who feels like the odd man out. Although, he offers a steady performance as usual, Fassbender never truly feels comfortable as Rongen at any given point in the coach's character arc.

The heart of Next Goal Wins lies with Jaiyah Saelua (Kaimana), the first openly non-binary and trans woman to compete in a FIFA World Cup qualifier. Through Rongen, Western audiences are introduced to the faʻafafine — a third gender recognized in traditional Samoan culture. Although the fa'afafine experience their own prejudices and challenges, Next Goal Wins emphasizes their general acceptance in Samoan society, with Rongen's initial bewilderment being the outlier. Beyond all the jokes, Waititi gives us a gentle reminder of how far Western societies still have to go in this regard without turning the film into a public service announcement.
(Searchlight Pictures)

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