Next Goal Wins” (2023) – A Struggle to Score on and off the Pitch


Director: Taika Waititi
Starring: Michael Fassbender, Kaimana, Elisabeth Moss, and more.

Next Goal Wins” is Taika Waititi‘s attempt to blend sports drama with his trademark comedic style, and while it scores a few emotional goals, it mostly fumbles on the pitch. Inspired by a 2014 documentary, the film tells the true story of the American Samoa national football team’s remarkable journey from the worst World Cup defeat in history to redemption. However, the result is a lackluster fact-based string-puller that often feels uninspired.

Plot and Performances

The film follows the misadventures of ex-professional player Thomas Rongen, played by the talented Michael Fassbender, who is tasked with coaching the American Samoan football team after their 31-0 loss to Australia. Fassbender’s casting seems like an odd choice as he is known for his serious roles, and his comedic struggles within the absurdity of the film’s world are quite noticeable. Elisabeth Moss, known for her dramatic roles, is equally out of place as Rongen’s ex-wife.

The standout performance comes from non-binary actor Kaimana as Jaiaya, the team’s lone character with any meaningful development. Dealing with gender identity and acceptance in an all-male team, their storyline adds depth and emotion to the film. Unfortunately, the rest of the team members remain underdeveloped and one-dimensional.

Comedy and Tone

Next Goal Wins” tries to balance its sports drama with comedic elements, but this mix often feels forced and uneven. The film appears to be overly aware of sports movie clich├ęs, frequently winking at the audience, which can be distracting and tiresome. The excessive use of quirky and exaggerated character traits dilutes the film’s earnestness, making it challenging to connect with the characters on a deeper level. Waititi’s signature style is more of a hindrance than an asset in this case.

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Cinematography and Direction

Lachlan Milne’s cinematography fails to capture the essence of the story. The football gameplay sequences lack skill and coherence, which hampers the film’s ability to engage the audience in the action on the field. The film’s lighting is criticized for wasting the beautiful island paradise setting.

Emotional Moments

Despite its shortcomings, “Next Goal Wins” manages to salvage a few emotional moments, especially in Jaiaya’s storyline. The film’s exploration of themes like acceptance and the inevitable end of their football journey when transitioning adds depth to an otherwise shallow narrative. These moments provide a glimmer of sincerity amid the comedy.


Next Goal Wins” is a film that struggles to find its footing on the field and in its comedic elements. While it delivers a few heartfelt moments and benefits from Kaimana’s performance, it falls short of expectations set by Taika Waititi‘s previous work. The film’s imbalance between sports drama and forced humor results in a lackluster viewing experience. Despite its real-life underdog story, “Next Goal Wins” fails to capture the magic of the beautiful game and ultimately leaves viewers wanting more.

Scheduled for release in the US on November 17, 2023, and later in the UK and Australia, it remains to be seen how audiences will respond to this unconventional take on sports cinema.

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