TIFF 2023: “Next Goal Wins”

Rating: 5 out of 5.

In a world filled with countless inspiring stories, it’s unfortunate that many of them go unnoticed unless they are of monumental significance. This is where notable and celebrated filmmakers come into play, dedicating their efforts to bring forth insightful narratives that can inspire audiences and instill a sense of hope. But what could possibly be inspiring about a football match that ends with a disheartening scoreline of 31-0, an outcome that etches your country’s name into the Guinness World Records as the bearer of the worst result? It may seem devastating and embarrassing, but hold onto your seats for the light-hearted and humorous journey that is ‘Next Goal Wins,’ crafted by the genius of our generation, director Taika Waititi. Because what appears as a crushing defeat to you takes on an entirely different perspective for them.

‘Next Goal Wins’ is a delightful, comical, and downright hilarious film that whisks its audience away to the picturesque and tight-knit community of American Samoa. Here, the residents may not be pleased with their humiliating soccer result, but they maintain a joyful, carefree spirit, dedicating themselves to their greatest passion—playing football. To turn their fortunes around, the Football Federation of Samoa enlists the services of Dutch-American manager Thomas Rongen, portrayed by the talented Michael Fassbender. Tasked with rekindling the team’s spirit, improving their fitness, and enhancing their gameplay, Rongen comes with his own set of imperfections. He has his highs, but they are often overshadowed by his lows, making him an unlikely fit for the American Samoa football team. However, when an opportunity for bonding arises, an unbreakable connection is formed.

From the moment ‘Next Goal Wins’ begins, it becomes clear that you’re embarking on an entertaining journey. You might even find yourself bursting into laughter throughout the film. Yet, sprinkled within the humor, there are poignant moments that provide a welcome break from the constant mirth. We are initially introduced to Thomas, a charismatic yet troubled manager who has been dismissed from his previous jobs on three separate occasions due to his uncontrollable temper. While overreactions may be par for the course in football, Thomas’s short-tempered outbursts revealed in his videos leave little doubt as to why he’s become an undesirable hire. Nonetheless, for American Samoa, having any manager is better than having none.

American Samoa, with its modest population of 45,000, may not rule the world of soccer, but it excels in another arena—kindness, generosity, and an irresistible sense of humor. The cast is exceptional, with Michael Fassbender showcasing his comedic flair, leaving audiences yearning for more of his comedic roles. However, the true revelation of the film is Kaimana, who brings to life the real-life team member, Jaiyah. She commands every scene with her wit and warmth, delivering a portrayal that resonates deeply and movingly, a testament to Kaimana’s incredible talent.

Ultimately, we all seek entertainment that transports us from our daily lives and immerses us in another world, one that offers novelty and uniqueness. ‘Next Goal Wins’ delivers all of this and more. The American Samoa culture and its vibrant characters are nothing short of astounding, and there is much to be gleaned from each individual—a lifetime’s worth of wisdom condensed into two hours. Brace yourself for the funniest film of the year, one that will evoke tears of laughter, showcase an endearing football game, and explore the bonds of human connection—a cinematic masterpiece that you absolutely cannot afford to miss.

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