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Next Goal Wins

Next Goal Wins

Rated PG-13 - for some strong language and crude material.
Director: Taika Waititi
Starring: Michael Fassbender, Oscar Kightley, David Fane, Rachel House, Will Arnett, Elisabeth Moss, Taika Waititi
Running Time: 1 hour, 43 minutes
Theatrical Release Date: November 17, 2023


Plot Summary

The story of the infamously terrible American Samoa soccer team, known for a brutal 2001 FIFA match they lost 31-0. (from IMDB)

Film Review

Director Taika Waititi is a bit all over the place -- much like his comedic style. The man has directed such films as the celebrated 2016 movie, Hunt for the Wilderpeople, as well as the Oscar-winning WWII entry, Jojo Rabbit. But in between both of those films, Waititi brought two Thor sequels to the big screen for Marvel, including the much-maligned fourth film, Thor: Love and Thunder. But after some somewhat big films, Waititi turns yet another corner to focus his attention on a little American Somoan soccer team for his newest movie, Next Goal Wins.

Next Goal Wins
Next Goal Wins is based on a true story, but is given the Waititi twist. It's a comedy, but also tries to dig in to the serious along the way, too. At first, the movie seems to be about the worst soccer team in the history of the sport - and that's not an exaggeration, since they famously lost an FIFA match in 2001 31-0 - as well as a down-on-his-luck soccer coach who is forced to travel to the remote island to coach the team. But about halfway through the movie, Waititi pulls a bit of a bait-and-switch, turning the focus onto a transsexual player who goes by the name of Jaiyah. At first, the story makes Jaiyah's presence rather awkward, especially when Michael Fassbender's coach character Thomas Rongen is first introduced to this team. But as Waititi shifts the focus to Jaiyah and his struggles to be accepted as a woman, and yet still play for an all-male team in an all-male sport (just think about that for a minute; he wants to have his cake and eat it too, so to speak), the story elevates his character to a hero and the heart of the team. That certainly may have really been the case for the real Jaiyah on the American Samoan team, but the story's shift suddenly feels really manipulative in how it's handled. (After all, the trailer for the movie, while it briefly shows Jaiyah a few times, gives its focus 100% to Michael Fassbender's character, when he's only kind of the main character.) I fully understand that much of today's society is pulling for full acceptance of gender confusion to be a norm, but I especially take issue when our media continues to increase its focus on, and glorification of, what is ultimately a mental illness. In the end, I just feel bad for Jaiyah for not being given the help he needs in his situation.

The tonal schizofrenia of Next Goal Wins is probably its greatest setback. Michael Fassbender is an excellent actor and plays a great serious "straight man" to the looney antics of the soccer team, as well as the island natives. His character does largely drive the story, but as I stated earlier, Waititi shifts that focus around quite a bit. Oscar Kightley channels Taika's own acting style as Tavita, the FIFA rep for the team, the father of one of the players, and the camera man for a local island show. He's one of the highlights of the film and he brings a lot to the story. Taika even joins in on the fun with a cameo of sorts as an island priest. He makes it very clear that the people of American Samoa have a serious faith in God and Christ, but he doesn't shy away from poking a little bit of fun at it in the process.

Next Goal Wins
And there in lies one of the other problems with Next Goal Wins. Nothing - no topic - is safe from Taika poking fun... well, except the trans character. The faith of the islanders is endearing, but Waititi rides the line of being offensive in his handling of that faith. He even tacks on a post-credits sequence featuring his character of the quirky priest (where he sports goofy extra-large teeth), leaving the last moment of the movie being his priest attempting to walk on water and the last line being him swearing when he immediately sinks in. If you're going to treat your story like a parody, you have to go all-in; you can't be quite as selective in which social or religious group you're going to offend. But, if you look at much of Waititi's work as a collective, he always seems to do this.

Additional cast include comedic actor Will Arnett and Handmaid's Tale's Elisabeth Moss who have small roles and show up to add a little extra friction to Rongen's life. Aside from Arnett adding some humor and Moss a little heartache (for Rongen), they don't do much more than show up to introduce Rongen and then pop in at the end to shake things up a bit. Still, Waititi knows how to get good performances out of his actors, and Next Goal Wins certainly gives audiences that at least.

Next Goal Wins
The content for Next Goal Wins earns its PG-13 rating mostly because of the frequent use of profanity, and Rongen's abuse of alcohol. Aside from some mild soccer violence, there's really just some playful violence where a character's wife likes to hit her husband, or others, with her flip-flop. A random character at a bar drops the film's lone "F" word, while it very much looks like Jaiyah mouths the "F" word at one point, too. There are also over 20 uses of the "S" word, 1 of Jesus' name in vain, 2 of "*ss," 2 more with "h*le," and several other colorful phrases. Rongen is shown drinking constantly throughout the movie, even while driving at one point. Some of it is played up a little lightly, but it definitely isn't condoned or encouraged.

Next Goal Wins *could* have been the feel-good family film of the year, but instead it's yet another preachy Hollywood offering that continues to push the gender confusion agenda in an effort to normalize it. There's a nice little movie in here somewhere I think, but as it is, I strongly recommend sitting this one out.

- John DiBiase (reviewed: 11/8/23)



Parental Guide: Content Summary

. Sex/Nudity: A soccer coach loses a bet and cartoony breasts are drawn on his face. We see these on his face several times for a few scenes; Two of Rongen's male colleagues obnoxiously corner him and dry hump him playfully to tease him (all fully clothed); The character of Jaiyah is a man who is in the process of transitioning to be a woman. The entire film deals with his teammates accepting his sex change and Jaiyah trying to still be able to play on an all-male team as he is still transitioning. At one point, he decides to stop taking his hormones so he can play better, but is an emotional mess because of it. Jaiyah is frequently shown acting feminine and dressing like a woman throughout the movie.
. Vulgarity/Language: 1 "F" word (Possibly 1 mouthed one too), 21 "S" words, 1 "J-sus Chr-st," 2 "a" words, 2 "*ssh*le," 2 "p*ss," 5 "h*ll," 1 "d*mn," 1 "S.O.B," 1 "cr*p," 2 "suck"
. Alcohol/Drugs: Rongen drinks throughout the movie, even while driving at one point. We also see people in bars and drinking in many scenes.
. Blood/Gore: None.
. Violence: Ruth whacks people with her flip-flop in frustration several times; Rongen tries calling Jaiyah by his real name, Johnny, to which he challenges Rongen to call him that one more time. When Rongen inevitably does, Jaiyah shoves Rongen to the ground forcefully.


Disclaimer: All reviews are based solely on the opinions of the reviewer. Most reviews are rated on how the reviewer enjoyed the film overall, not exclusively on content. However, if the content really affects the reviewer's opinion and experience of the film, it will definitely affect the reviewer's overall rating.

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