#TIFF23: “NEXT GOAL WINS” REVIEW
By David Baldwin
In 2001, the American Samoa soccer team set the record for the worst loss in international football history, losing 31-0. Fast forward to over a decade later where the team (still the worst in the world) is trying to make a run for the 2014 World Cup qualifiers, this time with the help of disgraced coach Thomas Rongen (Michael Fassbender).
What follows is your standard underdog crowd pleasing story of the coach who helps the team realize their potential and the team helping the coach get his groove back. Co-Writer/Director Taika Waititi (last seen at TIFF’19 winning the People’s Choice Award for future Oscar-winner Jojo Rabbit) brings his trademark brand of humour to the proceedings, embellishing a few details along the way. He knowingly injects some meta elements into the film – including calling out the white saviour narrative we all know too well – while also paying special attention to the religious and cultural customs of the team. These moments lead to plenty of laughs, but also gives the film a heartfelt resonance.
While I could have done without Waititi yukking it up as the Film’s partial narrator (why not use the motif of multiple narrators like they do at the end the whole time?) and thought there were a few too many montages, I would be lying if I said I did not enjoy NEXT GOAL WINS. It knows exactly the right beats to hit and at 103 minutes, does not overstay its welcome. Fassbender is great as Rongen, dialing into the intensity he is known for and a softer side he does not show very often. Oscar Kightley is terrific as the team’s manager, but despite there being multiple solid performances from various team members, non-binary Actor Kaimana steals the show. They play transgender fa’afafine player Jayiah in the Film (based on a real life, history-making player) and is the beating heart and soul of the Film. They act their heart out, delivering a performance that will have you laughing just as often as you are crying. You would never know this is their first film role.
NEXT GOAL WINS screens at TIFF’ 23:
Sunday, September 10 at 6:45 PM at Princess of Wales Theatre
Tuesday, September 12 at 6:30 PM at Princess of Wales Theatre
Thursday, September 14 at 5:30 PM at Royal Alexandra Theatre