THE NEXT GOAL WINS
TWO STARS A Dutch coach hopes to stop American Samoa's losing streak. First they have to stop his.
COMEDY US English #THENEXTGOALWINS
Starring Michael Fassbender, Oscar Knightly
To the outsider, it seems like Taikia Waititi is the kind of filmmaker who can do whatever he pleases. He’s Hollywood royalty that must know what he’s doing (ref: saving THOR), so no one is tells him what he needs to hear. If only they did, then he’d think twice about releasing half-baked noodles like THE NEXT GOAL WINS.
A loose variation on COOL RUNNINGS but with less ‘white saviour’ to ruin the fun, here’s the story of a white guy brought in to teach the American Samoan football team how to play football. They’re so hopeless they’ve never scored a goal (in fact, they famously lost 32-nil to Australia), but their manager is determined to get one for the team. And so he welcomes a washed up Dutchman to set them straight. Any saviour concerns by the producers are nullified since Waititi is Polynesian plus he knows what he’s doing, this is a funny story, he’s a funny guy AND he saved THOR. Slam dunk, to mix metaphors. Right? Well, no. Not exactly.
For a start, Waititi’s script (he wrote, directed, produced and starred as the film’s narrator) is, to be polite, loose. He skips so much establishing detail in a rush to get to the fun part that this ‘true story’ feels entirely made up. We don’t really know why a Dutch coach (Michael Fassbender) managed by an American company led by his ex-wife (Elisabeth Moss) is sent to Samoa to ‘get in touch with himself’ other than he did because he had to. It’s all background, ya da ya da.
The fun, reasons Waititi, is watching this loose mess of a team learn how to be better football players (they don’t) while the coach learns to be a better person (he does). Cue lots of swearing, yelling and montage sequences in which players miss goals, hilariously. There’s more fun, he reasons, by having a local minister narrate the story in a weirdly hands-off fashion - a man who has no direct relationship with the team or its coach. But it gives Waititi the opportunity to wear a dodgy moustache, mug the camera and drop a few more lazy jokes. It’s odd, at best. Mostly it's just not that funny.
Naturally the entire island (population 45,000) get behind the team as they take on Tonga in the first serious match of their new career. Will they get a goal? Could they even win the match? Will they help Coach overcome his personal demons? There are no points for guessing and frankly, why bother? You know how stories like this, and this TED LASSO knock off in particular, play out since it's all been sign-posted from the beginning.
When he’s on form, Waititi is a formidable talent. Think minor gems like HUNT FOR THE WILDERPEOPLE (whacky and delightful) or major hits like THOR:RAGNAROK (whacky and delightful). But when he’s not we end up with self-indulgent, half-baked, crimes against comedy like THE NEXT GOAL WINS.