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regular-article-logo Friday, 19 April 2024

Next Goal Wins: Taika Waititi's quirky touch makes for an engaging underdog sports comedy

Starring Michael Fassbender, Next Goal Wins tells the story of the international football team American Samoa and is based on a 2014 documentary

Agnivo Niyogi Calcutta Published 03.02.24, 04:32 PM
Michael Fassbender (centre) plays a football coach in Next Goal Wins

Michael Fassbender (centre) plays a football coach in Next Goal Wins IMDB

After the not-so-impressive Thor: Love and Thunder, Taika Waititi returns to the director’s chair with the feel-good sports comedy Next Goal Wins.

Adapted from a 2014 documentary with the same title, Next Goal Wins recounts the tale of the international football team American Samoa, widely regarded as the weakest. Waititi manages to deliver a warm and goofy comedy, bringing on the laughs as he tracks a team that is infamous for never scoring a goal and enduring the worst defeat in soccer history against Australia with a staggering 31-0 scoreline.

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Next Goal Wins begins with Dutch American football coach Thomas Rongen (Michael Fassbender) facing a career dead end — he can pick between being fired from the American Football Association and coaching American Samoa, a team known for its dismal track record. Rongen shows up half-heartedly to train American Samoa for the World Cup Qualifiers, which are due in a month. This sets the stage for a crazy ride marked by challenges and unexpected triumphs.

Waititi treats the underdog trope with his signature quirkiness, breathing fresh life into a familiar story. The fourth wall is broken plenty of times, and Waititi himself appears on screen as a priest with a broken tooth to keep our spirits high.

The film avoids the white-saviour trope commonly seen in underdog sports stories. The characters address it, with one player rejecting the idea of a white footballer from outside the island coaching them, early on in the film. Fassbender's character is portrayed as the outsider, appearing ridiculous to the locals. It is through blending in with the locals that Rongen actually gathers the courage to deal with his anger issues, accept his mistakes and move on.

The casting choices are noteworthy. Fassbender, known for his intense roles, shows his flair for comedy as the troubled and hot-tempered coach Rongen. David Fane as the outgoing and useless coach Ace is a valuable addition.

The standout character in this tale, however, is Jaiyah Saelua, played by transgender actor Kaimana. As a fa'afafine (third gender in Samoan language), Jaiyah's portrayal delves into her gender struggles and the tensions of being a woman in a men's football team. Her story, as the first openly trans athlete in a FIFA World Cup qualifier, becomes the beating heart of Next Goal Wins.

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