In Focus-Magazine

Next Goal Wins
Sunday, 11.19.2023, 07:33 AM

Sometimes an 'underdog' film is too sweet and sugary for its own good. Next Goal Wins is not that type of film. Directed by Academy Award Winner Taika Waititi and starring Michael Fassbender, if this film's only goal is to make you smile without cringing, I can guarantee success.

In the film, 'inspired by true events', Fassbender takes on the role of Thomas Rongen, FIFA's worst-tempered soccer coach, drafted to lead American Samoa, the league's worst soccer team. In 2001, that team suffered the most-cringeworthy defeat in soccer history, losing 31-0. This film is set 10 years after that loss. The current team is just as bad, and maybe a little worse: they have still never scored a single goal. Following their humiliating loss, many of the team's best players including the self-blaming goalie, have abandoned the sport.

Videotape of Rongen acting up, rage-throwing furniture around soccer fields, has prompted a FIFA board meeting in his behalf. How do you solve a problem like Rongen? Following a funny schtick bit with Elisabeth Kubler-Ross's theory of the five stages of grief, and yes, even that is humorous, Rongen is shipped off to American Samoa. It's his last, and only chance, of remaining part of the league's staff.

Everyone on the island has two jobs, which sometimes interferes with soccer practice. Everyone attends church, which definitely interferes with soccer practice. It's readily apparent that soccer is a priority to the team, but not enough of a priority to get them to practice on time. 'Don't worry, be happy' could certainly be the theme song of the island.

The always dour Rongen is definitely a fish out of water here. Nobody gets his coaching style. He doesn't understand why they don't take the game seriously. Especially when there's a championship at stake.

And that's the set-up for this laugh-out-loud film with a lot of heart. I don't want to give too much away but Kaimana's supporting role as Jaiyah, one of the team's players, emerges as the perfect sunny counter-point to Rongen's constant toxicity.

Since this is an underdog story, I'm sure everyone expects that, in the final moments, the coach will come to appreciate all that the team has to offer. I can promise that Next Goal Wins offers up all that, and a whole lot more. The screenplay, written by Waititi and Iain Morris, offers up something positively delectable. You won't be disappointed because they kick that script straight into the cinematic net for a GOOOOAAALLLL!

Lisa Blanck is the Associate Editor and Movie Reviewer for In  Her background includes 30+ years of digital editing for WESH2 News and WKMG News.  She also edits on-air promotional spots for Matter Of Fact, the number one nationally syndicated news and information program.  For more than 30 years she has covered the Florida Film Festival and the World Peace Film Festival, with additional experience in advertising, marketing, promotions and live special events at MTV Networks.  She was previously a columnist for the Focus In Newspaper and is a member of the Critics Association of Central Florida.  

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