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Next Goal Wins
Review by Rich Cline |
dir Taika Waititi
scr Taika Waititi, Iain Morris
prd Jonathan Cavendish, Garrett Basch, Taika Waititi, Mike Brett, Steve Jamison
with Michael Fassbender, Oscar Kightley, Kaimana, David Fane, Rachel House, Beulah Koale, Uli Latukefu, Semu Filipo, Lehi Falepapalangi, Ioane Goodhue, Elisabeth Moss, Will Arnett, Taika Waititi
release US 17.Nov.23,
23/US Searchlight 1h43
TORONTO FILM FEST
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Based on true events chronicled in the terrific 2014 doc, this lively comedy centres around biggest losers in football history. Filmmaker Taika Waititi makes the most of the Pacific island setting, a witty script and a cast of engaging actors. So even if there isn't much underlying resonance in how the events unfold, the story is able to remain buoyant thanks to the sharp gags and deliberately sentimentalised camaraderie.
It's been 10 years since the American Samoa soccer team suffered the worst loss in World Cup history. So officials send disgraced hothead coach Thomas (Fassbender) from the Netherlands to whip them into shape. He learns that all the team's president Tavita (Kightley) hopes for is that the players score their first-ever goal in the 2014 World Cup qualifying rounds. But Thomas finds it impossible to get the team to take the game seriously. And Thomas' estranged wife, football official Gail (Moss), reminds him that he was sent there for himself, not for the team.
Failing to adapt to the local culture, the grumpy Thomas is thrown by the intensity of religious devotion in this society and the way the rambunctious players put relationships over discipline. And he particularly doesn't know what to do with Jaiyah (Kaimana), who as a fa-afafine is a valued intersex member of the community. Watching THomas open his heart to them is warmly entertaining, even if the movie is following a rather predictable sporting underdog narrative.
As the perpetually frustrated Thomas, Fassbender is the straight guy in a large ensemble of wonderful comics who never steal focus from each other. His debilitating intensity sits at odds with the more soulful approach to life in this place. All of the locals are strongly likeable, played with offhanded charm that instantly grabs the audience but takes a long time to get through to Thomas. Each actor creates a distinct teammate with his or her own character arc feeding into the bigger picture.
Amusing dialog and knowing comedic details pepper each scene, so the film keeps us smiling all the way through. Although the way story is told makes it feel more comfortable than inspiring. Tavita reminds Thomas that the players will not deny who they are just to win. So it's nice that Thomas learns to stop pushing them and to take the journey with them. And of course, the rousing and shamelessly crowd-pleasing climactic match against Tonga plays out as a reminder to enjoy the game.
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© 2023 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall
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