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Film Review: NEXT GOAL WINS (2023): Michael Fassbender Shines in Taika Waititi’s Soccer Comedy that Has Several Dramatic Touches as Well

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Michael Fassbender Next Goal Wins

Next Goal Wins Review

Next Goal Wins (2023) Film Review, a movie directed by Taika Waititi, written by Iain Morris and Taika Waititi and starring Michael Fassbender, Oscar Kightley, Kaimana, David Fane, Rachel House, Beulah Koale, Taika Waititi, Will Arnett, Elisabeth Moss, Uli Latukefu, Sisa Grey, Chris Alosio, Lehi Makisi Falepapalangi, Ioane Goodhue, Hio Pelesasa, Wil Kahele and Rhys Darby.

Taika Waititi is a quirky actor/director but a talented one. His latest comedy, Next Goal Wins, is cut from the same cloth as the comedy, Champions, which also came out last year. That movie starred Woody Harrelson as a basketball coach who took on a team of lovable misfits with learning disabilities and turned them into– you guessed it– champions. Next Goal Wins, based on a true story, has the same type of group of lovable oddballs but it also has a strong lead performance from the actor who plays their coach– Michael Fassbender.

Fassbender is usually known for his dramatic parts so I suspected there could be some dramatic substance to his role in Next Goal Wins and I was correct. Fassbender portrays an every day guy named Thomas Rongen who is assigned the task of taking control of an American Samoa soccer team. Like Woody Harrelson in Champions, Fassbender’s character doesn’t have many options. He can be jobless or help a team with no real chance at victory improve. Thomas chooses the latter.

The film opens with an American Samoan priest played by Waititi setting the stage for the story line. Waititi gives us a feel for the general zaniness that takes place as the movie progresses right from the outset but the characters in the director’s film are well-shaped and easy to relate to underneath their outlandish personal character traits. Keep in mind that Waititi’s character also appears after the end credits should you be so inclined to sit through the concluding credits.

One of the most memorable characters on the team is a transgender player named Jaiyah who is portrayed by Kaimana who is given many moments to shine throughout the film. It’s important to see such a character conveyed sympathetically in a movie and Kaimana keeps the integrity of the performance intact, portraying a person with decency who is playing a sport as a means of expression. It’s hard not to care about Jaiyah who suffers some trials throughout the movie which ultimately help the character prevail in life.

The team featured in Next Goal Wins had the lowest of the low results in the history of the World Cup and Fassbender’s character had a lot on his plate. He suffered a loss no parent should ever have to face and is taking life as it comes. Fassbender expertly makes his character here both plausible and intriguing albeit not always entirely likable. Yet, we come to care about him despite this fact thanks to the tremendous depth Fassbender brings to his delicate role here.

There’s not a huge payoff in Next Goal Wins but the expected messages of hope and perseverance remain nevertheless. Not every joke works but there is some inside humor that movie fans will appreciate. The team showcased in its movie has its quirks, to be certain, but comes across as a bunch of people with real aspirations living lives that feel authentic.

This movie is flawed, though. Too many times Waititi goes for an easy joke where if he had taken the high road, the film could have been more compelling. This movie could have been a dramatic picture along the lines of The Blind Side instead of resulting in something more like Cool Runnings. The pacing is good but there are some story telling choices that feel like they could have been eliminated. For example, a key character having a heat stroke being told details that could have been better and more effectively revealed in real-time than in a backstory.

Elisabeth Moss is fine as Fassbender’s character’s ex-wife though I was hoping more would have been done with these two characters than what was actually achieved here. Will Arnett serves as Moss’s character’s new man and Arnett is OK but sort of gets lost in the shuffle as the movie is more effective when dealing with the sports team than with the romantic aspects of these characters’ lives. Also in the supporting cast is Oscar Kightley who shines as the leader of the soccer federation.

In the end, Fassbender’s character transformation in Next Goal Wins is believable. This character he portrays has dealt with a lot which has led him to be cruel and to live life on the edge. Perhaps, the story told in Next Goal Wins was what this character needed to redeem himself. As a redemption story, Waititi’s movie works. As a comedy, it isn’t entirely successful. It could have focused more on the dramatic elements. Yet, I liked the movie and found the combination of humorous and serious moments to ultimately work, for whatever reason. Fassbender is the most important reason to see the film. He’s a fine actor in almost any role he takes on.

Rating: 7/10

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