Next Goal WinsOverview -
It’s a crazy world out there and we could all use something inspirational to lift us up. Nothing does the trick quite like an underdog sports film! Taika Waititi turns his attention to the true story of American Samoa’s underdog soccer team for Next Goal Wins. An amiable film with a good heart, it often stumbles when it’s trying to be too goofy at the expense of genuine character drama. 20th Century Studios scores a lovely Blu-ray release with an excellent A/V offering and a couple of extra features. Worth A Look
Storyline: Our Reviewer's Take
Sports films are a genre all their own. They can be dramatic like Rocky or hilarious like Cool Runnings, but they're thrilling, rousing, and inspirational. But what happens when they try to be both? Can an Inspirational sports story be funny and dramatic at the same time? American Samoa's soccer team has never exactly been a competitor on the world stage. In fact, their most infamous match lead them to a disastrous 31-0 loss. Then comes maverick coach Thomas Rongen looking for his own path to redemption in the eyes of FIFA to turn around this struggling team. Sounds like a heck of a movie right? Well, it made for an amazing documentary in 2014 called Next Goal Wins and it certainly had the appeal for a big Hollywood studio feature film. For better or worse, Taika Waititi answered that call with his own Next Goal Wins.
Our story sees hot-headed coach Thomas Rongen (Michael Fasbender) flat on his back. After being fired several times, FIFA is sending him out into the middle of the Pacific to coach the never-was never-will-be soccer team of American Samoa (yes I know it’s properly called “football” but I’m an American and a Lions fan, so it's "soccer" for this review). Greeted with open arms by team head Tavita Taumua (Oscar Knightly), Thomas is a true fish out of water. The culture is alien, the food is different, and worse - the team is a mess. But by helping Thomas figure out what he needs to heal the wounds of his past, the wonderful people of American Samoa just might have a chance to score their first goal in FIFA competition! Maybe if they get lucky, they might even get a win.
Taika Waititi is a talented and imaginative filmmaker. A creator that can help conjure up What We Do in the Shadows while unleashing Hunt for the Wilderpeople and hitting a two-run homer with Thor: Ragnarok and Jojo Rabbit isn’t a talent to be ignored. However, he is a filmmaker that can step on his own feet. As we saw with Thor: Love and Thunder, Waitti has a knack for comedy and deep character-driven drama but struggles to pair the two conflicting emotions within the same scene without tripping up the show. Frustratingly, those stumbles crop up and undermine the very entertaining and rousing Next Goal Wins and may be partly the reason this film sat on a shelf since 2019.
The film hits a bumpy patch almost immediately opening with Taikia in character for a ill-conceived bit as a toothy preacher with the story of American Samoa’s pitiful soccer team and their tragic 31-0 loss. A simple scene featuring Fasbender’s Rongen getting fired while sitting in a comically small school desk, the film’s worst comedic tendencies are on full display. A never-ending gag with an overhead projector, a desperately unfunny story from Will Arnett about killing his childhood dog (the first of two such stories), and a dispassionately disinterested few words from Elizabeth Moss playing Rongen’s ex-wife Gail sets this ball rolling onto a craggy pitch.
It takes a while, but the film eventually finds the shiny heart of its key characters and establishes a rhythm to the comedic undertones. But those inconsistent bumps between drama and comedy are felt throughout. But when Next Goal Wins is great, it’s a grand little adventure. Fasbender anchors the film delivering a hell of a performance as he works to figure out how to reach and inspire his team while also working through his own issues. Much like the real-life Tavita Taumua, Oscar Knightly is the heart and soul of the film with some of the funniest bits and the deepest character moments. Kaimana is excellent as the striker and team captain Jaiyah. Together they make for an enjoyable cast for a traditional underdog sports film. But there’s just a little too much comedic dead weight pulling the film down.
The film has had something of a storied release history. It was actually shot in 2019 and took quite a bit of time to finish and even required some notable reshoots. One of those key reshoots revolved around the replacement of Armie Hammer. When the actor’s tabloid-salavating personal and legal troubles came to light he was replaced with Will Arnett. I don’t know what or how that could have made any difference, but that character could have been cut entirely. Likewise, Elizabeth Moss’s Gail is too aloof to suggest she has any personal history with Thomas Rongen, let alone a shared trauma. The usually lovable Rhys Darby pops up, but like so much of the film’s comedy, he’s poorly utilized as he’s left to improv his way through unfunny bits. Waitti just needed to trust his actors and the human drama and natural comedy of the situation without going for the easy joke.
Next Goal Wins isn’t a terrible film by any stretch. But it’s not a great one either, and it could have been terrific. It could have been this generation's Cool Runnings. There is a great movie in here hiding within the great performances and beautiful photography. Perhaps with some trimming and tightening, some of the superfluous comedic shenanigans could have been tamed and a better more meaningful film could have been allowed to thrive. As it is, it's just a weird version of an incredible documentary - go check out that Next Goal Wins
Vital Disc Stats: The Blu-ray
Next Goal Wins kicks one in on disc with a single Blu-ray + digital release from Disney/20th Century Studios. The film is pressed on a Region Free BD-50 disc. The disc is housed in a standard case and loads to an animated main menu with standard navigation options.
In 1080p, Next Goal Wins enjoys a bright, bold, detailed 1080p transfer. Given the locations, cast, and culture on display, the film is a lovely viewing experience. Facial features, clothing details, and the film’s production design work. Much of the film was shot on location in Hawaii and the camera captures that scenic beauty. Every blade of grass is perfectly captured. Colors are vibrant with lovely primaries and healthy natural skin tones throughout. Bitrate is nice and high so the image maintains a strong sense of depth. Given a 4K version is now streaming on Disney+ that is arguably the superior presentation, but as far as 1080p goes this disc holds its end of the pitch.
On the audio side the disc rolls with a very good DTS-HD MA 5.1 audio track. Dialog is clean and clear without issue. Music cues, the sounds of the crowds, and the great score from Michael Giacchino fill up a rich soundscape. Even though the film is largely front/center focused, there is an active surround presence. From the big practice scenes and final match to the quiet character-driven conversation bits, surround channels check in to make sure the soundscape never goes dull. It’s not the most aggressive surround mix ever but it handles the workload for this film nicely.
Certainly not the biggest most expansive set of extras ever, but it's not a waste either. The mini-making-of documentary The Pitch of Life is actually a solid look at the making of the film without just being the tired EPK talking head piece. Various aspects of the story's genesis, casting, and shooting in Hawaii are all covered. More would have been great, but as is it's not a waste of time. And for proof that it was a shtick that just didn’t work, we have a deleted scene with Waitti’s Priest blessing the team for their big game.
- The Pitch of Life (HD 26:47)
- Priest Blessing the Team Deleted Scene (HD 2:37)
There is another film called Next Goal Wins which is a terrific rousing and exciting documentary everyone should see. This particular Next Goal Wins is a decent well-meaning Sports Drama/Comedy that has far too uneven to soar among the greatest Sports films. Waititi can be a mad magician of a filmmaker when it comes to capturing genuine hilarity or true human-driven drama, but he has a tough time managing the two emotions within the same and there are a lot of scenes that are neither dramatic nor comedically fulfilling. Uneven but still somewhat entertaining, Next Goal Wins scores a nice Blu-ray release with an excellent A/V presentation. The extras are thin, but the making-of is a nice piece. Worth A Look
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