wed 24/07/2024

Next Goal Wins review - football's lamentables | reviews, news & interviews

Next Goal Wins review - football's lamentables

Next Goal Wins review - football's lamentables

Taika Waititi's underdog soccer comedy fails to find the net

Look away now: Michael Fassbender tries to rally the troops in ‘Next Goal Wins’

For those who ever wonder if soccer scoreboards, or score-line captions on TV, can ever be made to reach three figures, consider the match between AS Adema and SO l’Emyrne, two teams in Madagascar, in 2002. It ended 149-0, but that was only because of an on-field protest. (They were all own goals.)

A more shocking shellacking was a year earlier when American Samoa lost 31-0 to Australia in a World Cup Qualifier. It was the biggest loss in international football history, or possibly in school playground history, or possibly in back garden history against the dog – and is now the starting point for a movie by the New Zealand all-rounder, Taika Waititi.

It’s a very lightweight comedy and suggests that Waititi – maker of the brilliant wartime dramedy Jojo Rabbit (2019), demiurge of Thor movies, plus actor in dozens of TV episodes – might be spreading himself a little thin. Next Goal Wins follows in the footsteps of a 2014 documentary of the same name, and starts with all-too-brief clips of the actual 31-0 in which a TV analyst saying “the centre-back needs to be tighter” wouldn’t begin to do the debacle justice. Michael Fassbender plays the Dutch-born coach Thomas Rongen subsequently charged with leading the American Samoans towards… well, scoring a goal in a competitive game would be nice.

Thomas is a bit washed-up, and a bit cross at this new gig where he has to live in a hut in the South Pacific with pictures of Christ and Dolly Parton on the wall, but he’s a rather dull and surly sideline presence in the manic annals of football management, give or take the odd furniture-throwing incident: for once, Fassbender doesn’t seem to be dialled into the part or able to find many comedy sparks. Working overtime for the laffs are those playing the pants players, who start off more or less not knowing what a ball is, before shaping up in classic underdog fashion for a climactic match against arch-rivals Tonga. 

The film stays wedded to the Marx Brothers problems on the training pitch and doesn’t really explore team members’ struggles away from it. Most fascinating among them all is the trans player Jaiyah Saelu, part of a non-binary community given respect in this neck of the woods, and played by screen debutant Kaimana. Also lively is Oscar Kightley as a dotty soccer federation chief.

But none of the real-life characters are worked particularly hard, and this is a sitcomy effort that feels as if it should be in half-hour instalments, with its few chortles generated by people’s quirks, tics and banjaxed verbalising on a children’s island where people don’t seem to be living adult lives. It’s in a similar register to the football underdog comedy Ted Lasso on Apple TV, but has less to say than that show about workplace life, the mores of soccer, the point of “winning”, or the whole pageant of aggression that is sport in general. 

The film feels as if it should be in half-hour instalments


Editor Rating: 
Average: 2 (1 vote)

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