Quirky True Story Comes to Life in ‘Next Goal Wins’

Jan 15, 2024 | Entertainment and Arts

By: Russ Matthews

Taika Waititi (Thor: Ragnarok, Jojo Rabbit) is an artist who has experienced the extreme highs and lows of filmmaking in a short period.

Despite having a successful career as a writer/director/comedian in Oceania, he became famous on the world stage with his unique take on Marvel’s Thor. Then came the Academy Award-winning venture with Jojo Rabbit that took him from being a bankable talent to being acknowledged for his creative prowess. Yet, the love affair with Hollywood began to sour with the critically panned and financial failure of Thor: Love and Thunder. This career roller coaster ride brought him back to his independent roots, allowing the man to express himself by speaking with his own voice again.

The Academy Award winner takes on the true-to-life story of Dutch-American coach Thomas Rongen (Michael Fassbender), who had come to the end of a football career (soccer). His anger issues had led him to lose his previous jobs and left him with only one option: coaching the American Samoa national football team. The catch is that this team had never scored a goal in international play and carried the label of the worst team in the world. Yet, the tiny island nation hoped this rag-tag bunch would one day be able to score a goal and potentially win a game. As both sides of this equation were at a point of desperation and willingness to do anything they could to score a goal, they merely needed to find the magic to make this a reality.

Interestingly, this tale involved three elements that compete with one another to capture the hearts of the audience. One is the desperate situation of Thomas Rongen, who is fighting inner demons while he attempts to find some redeemable elements within this hopeless team. Fassbender is good but has too much talent for this role as he continually looks to be a man out of place throughout the film. The following story element is the heartfelt yearning of the team to earn respect from their fellow countrymen and those within the international football community. These two would be enough to drive forward a feel-good sports story with all the earmarks of a humorous and emotional journey. Still, there is another significant aspect to this all too familiar troupe. That would be the fa’afafine (American Soman for transgender) player Jaiyah Saelua (Kaimana), a key player who became the first transgender player to compete in a World Cup qualifier game.

This comedic underdog story contains all of the hilarity associated with Waititi’s works while trying to convey the touching elements of the culture and the lives of those involved with the team. Yet, this simple tale begins to suffer from the pile-on effect of too many storylines. Each of the previously mentioned components should have warranted their own films, while all three prove to be a bit much for a movie of this style. Especially with the director’s disjointed storytelling, it was hard to follow the overall message of the screenplay. The sporting components were pretty straightforward, but the social commentary led to more distraction as opposed to emotionally investing in these aspects of the story.

Next Goal Wins has the foundation for a comedic and heartfelt journey, but the cracks form as the story builds. Yet, this film does get the celebrated filmmaker back to his creative roots and proves to have as much catharsis for Waititi as it does for the characters within the movie.

Reel Dialogue: How do you process grief?

From the opening segment that introduces Thomas Rongen, there is an awareness that this film has something to do with grief. Regret, tears, anger, and confusion are some of the emotions that come along during this time in the lives of those who lose a loved one. The comedic treatment of this emotional device within the storyline shows the ripple effect of how an individual tragedy can impact a community. Rongen’s family situation shows how suffering and grief do not happen in a vacuum and that the support of others is essential for healing.

One thing that can be considered about the message of the Bible is that God is not only there for those who grieve, but that he can empathise with them too. His Son died a horrific death, and it allows people to know that they can come to a God who knows how they feel during this low in their lives.

The Lord is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit. – Psalm 34:18

If you would like to discuss the topic of grief and God, reach out to us at Third Space. We would love to chat with you about this and more.