There’s something special about a sports movie. They go down smoothly. These stories are often easy, emotional and fun to watch. Usually, we know how they end, but it’s always a fun journey. After some time working with Thor and company, filmmaker Taika Waititi tries his hand at sports with his latest work, Next Goal Wins. Will the movie soar with the humanity we’ve come to expect with his work? Or are there more screaming goats in our future? 

Next Goal Wins follows a football coach (Michael Fassbender) who, when he falls on hard times, takes a job coaching the American Samoa National Team as they prepare for the World Cup. Will he be able to help the team rise above their struggles and shake their notoriously terrible reputation? David Fane, Oscar Knightley, Kaimana and Elisabeth Moss co-star in the movie. Taika Waititi directs the film from a script he co-wrote with Iain Morris

Kaimana and the cast of Next Goal Wins are caught in a pose as they workout on the football pitch.

Kaimana and the cast of NEXT GOAL WINS. Photo by Hilary Bronwyn Gayle. Courtesy of Searchlight Pictures. © 2023 Searchlight Pictures All Rights Reserved.

Next Goal Wins is precisely what it sounds like — a feel-good sports movie. This is Ted Lasso meets Cool Runnings, and it isn’t a spoiler to say we know how these movies end. Thomas (Fassbender) helps the team, and they help him. A format like this has the potential to age very poorly through a 2023 perspective. In the wrong hands, this is yet another simple and saccharine white savior narrative. 

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Luckily, this is helped a bit thanks to a standard, tongue-in-cheek Taika Waititi script. Even the screenplay calls out the potential problems in the narrative. Luckily, this tone will feel familiar to fans. The film’s humor feels delightfully close to Thor: Ragnarok. At the same time, the smart and clear-eyed comedy allows this talented supporting cast to capture the humanity once so prevalent in the director’s work. 

As mentioned, Waititi finds magic in spot-on casting, especially in the ensemble. From top to bottom, these actors steal the show. Each excels in delivering Waititi’s traditional brand of humor. Kaimana, in particular, shines in her portrayal of Jaiyah, a trans player working through their transition. Her chemistry with Michael Fassbender fuels much of the beautiful humanity in the story.

Michael Fassbender sits on a hillside during sunset appearing deep in thought in the movie Next Goal Wins.

Michael Fassbender in NEXT GOAL WINS. Photo by Hilary Bronwyn Gayle. Courtesy of Searchlight Pictures. © 2023 Searchlight Pictures All Rights Reserved.

Ultimately, the supporting cast carries this movie. Next Goal Wins soars with the easy, effective comedy when the ensemble can dictate the narrative’s course. I struggled most when the story pivoted to talk about Thomas. While the role is necessary to the overall structure (The team helps him, he helps them!), he stops the joy cold. Fassbender struggles to bring Thomas remotely close to likable, and it isn’t until deep into the story that he really finds his footing. Truthfully? I missed Ted Lasso. 

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When all is said and done, Next Goal Wins goes down smoothly. Ultimately, this isn’t a complicated or overly dramatic story. What feel-good sports movie really is? We go to enjoy ourselves and feel uplifted for 90 minutes. Those looking for something fun for the family or fans of all things Taika Waititi should undoubtedly enjoy this gentle comedy.    

Next Goal Wins is now playing in theaters around the country. 

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Kimberly Pierce
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