The American Samoa Football team, much like our Editors success with women, rarely scored. In fact to continue the analogy further, neither of them got to dribble in the box before they would shoot (‘You’re fired!’ – Ed) and this led to the team suffering the worst ever score in a World Cup back in 2001 when they lost 31-0 to Australia. What was the biggest defeat in a major football tournament became the subject of a 2014 documentary which director Taika Waititi and his co-writer Iain Morris (who also scripted The Inbetweeners) have now made into a big screen film with Next Goal Wins
With the team continuing a woeful string of defeats and demoralized they hire Rongen (Michael Fassbender) an alcoholic and recently sacked US football coach where his ex-wife (Elizabeth Moss) is one of the club executives with her new beau Will Arnett. Shunted off to the remote island Rongen finds a ramshackle bunch of misfits wholly unfit for purpose that it could be Rishi Sunak’s cabinet ministers. Arriving on the island his job is to turn the team around and by turn them around they mean just get them to score a single goal. So Next Goal Wins is essentially one of those sports underdog movies that we’ve seen many times before
But what sets the team apart here is that their star player Jaiyah Saelua is a fa’fafine – American Samoan for transgender / non binary and is transitioning meaning that when the process is complete she will no longer be able to play for the team. It’s this true aspect of the story that is most compelling dramatically and is really the heart of the story as she was something of a pioneer, the first openly non-gender binary player to compete in a FIFA qualifying match. Rongen is not wholly sympathetic, dead naming and generally treating her pretty badly although in fairness the rest of the team suffer his ire also. It all builds to the qualifying match and the teams simple ambition of not necessarily winning but just to score one goal for the first time in a straight run of untold dozens of lost matches
Next Goal Wins freely riffs on a load of other sport movies notably Any Given Sunday and The Karate Kid as well as Cool Runnings and The Bad News Bears too in a film that is very Taika Waititi in its quirkiness. But it is good to see him away from the big budget Marvel blockbusters doing what he does best – small films with big laughs of which there are many. It’s not a perfect film but after the bloated stodge of Christmas dinner its welcome light relief.
related feature ; Taika Waititi’s Oscar winning ‘Jojo Rabbit’
Here’s the Next Goal Wins trailer…..