KSL Movie Show review: “Next Goal Wins” is a heartfelt and true story
Nov 17, 2023, 7:00 AM
SALT LAKE CITY — I’ve never been a big fan of soccer, or football as the rest of the planet calls it, but I do know what a lopsided score sounds like. Most games you hear about are 1-0, 2-1, or my favorite, 0-0. Groan. No sporting contest should ever end in a tie! Just sayin.’
With that in mind, American Samoa’s loss to Australia, 31-0, in a 2001 World Cup qualifier, had to be the ultimate indignity. Sure enough, that record holds as the biggest lopsided game in international football history.
That big loss was only the beginning of “Next Goal Wins”
But that didn’t stop the Football Federation American Samoa from fielding a team year after humiliating year, which speaks to the spirit of determination that this club exhibited.
So, in an effort to turn its miserable luck around, the team hires Dutch-born, America-based coach Thomas Rongen (Michael Fassbender) in 2014 with one simple goal in mind.
Score one, just one goal.
Since the team had never scored a goal against major competition (which is hard to believe) it didn’t seem like too tough a task, right?
Oh boy, was Coach Thomas in for a rude awakening. His arrogant, short-fused personality didn’t help as he looked upon this team as completely helpless. He had to start from square one, teaching basic fundamentals, but also combing the island for real talent that might be too embarrassed to play for this hapless squad.
As in life, acceptance wasn’t everywhere
Among the Bad-News-Bears players he must deal with is a fa’afafine footballer Jaiyah Saelua (Kaimana) who was born male but is transitioning and is one of the more talented players on the team.
My first thought was why call attention to her? But then I learned that in Samoan and American Samoan culture, a non-binary person is no big deal. It’s actually fairly common, and not looked down upon in any way.
It was refreshing to see her teammates treat her no differently than any other player, and in fact, look to her for leadership. It took Coach Thomas a while to come around, but he, too, grew to respect her skills and command on the pitch.
I can’t say the same for the other islander teams they would play. as they mocked Kai mercilessly, but she was tough and her team supported her.
Expect Waititi’s touch throughout the film
Looking at the lighter side, the film is co-written and directed by Taika Waititi and is based on a 2014 documentary by the same name. So you know it’s going to be mostly good-natured, playful, and upbeat with a Pacific cultural flair we’re accustomed to seeing from him.
He also fills the screen with a humorous, laid-back cast that flies in the face of the uptight coach who threatens to quit at every turn.
It’s certainly not a polished masterpiece, but it’s a heartfelt, true sports story that offers many lessons in not quitting, not judging, and not always winning. All excellent goals from the “Next Goal Wins.”
NEXT GOAL WINS (B) Rated PG-13 for some brief strong language and crude material. Starring Michael Fassbender, Oscar Kightley, Kaimana, David Fane and Rachel House. Co-written and directed by Taika Waititi (“Thor: Ragnarok” “Jojo Rabbit” – based on a 2014 British documentary by the same name. Filmed in Oahu. 105 minutes.