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Next Goal Wins review: Taika Waititi returns roots

Taika Waititi's Next Goal Wins is a heartwarming underdog sports comedy that celebrates Polynesian culture and the enduring strength of community.

Taika Waititi's Next Goal Wins is being marketed as a comedy that tells the story of an underdog South Pacific soccer team trying to redeem themselves after a devastating loss. The film revisits the aftermath of American Samoa's 31-0 defeat by Australia in a 2001 World Cup qualifying match. While the movie provides plenty of lighthearted moments, it also aims to highlight the enduring strength of the island community and their deep connection to Polynesian culture.

Adapted from a 2014 documentary, the film portrays the team's transformation under the guidance of a mainland American coach. This clash of cultures adds depth to the story, elevating it above the typical sports movie narrative. Despite low expectations for the team's success, the film showcases the resilience and determination of the players.

For Waititi, Next Goal Wins marks a return to Polynesia, following his successful 2016 comedy Hunt For The Wilderpeople. While the film follows the conventions of an underdog sports movie, it lacks surprising plot twists. However, the genuine commitment to the story and the characters shines through, making it a compelling watch.

The film follows the American Samoa team's journey as they prepare for the upcoming 2011 qualifying round. Facing an uphill battle, the team's head makes a bold decision to bring in a new coach, Thomas Rongen, to lead the team. Rongen's task is simple: the team needs to score at least one goal. However, his coaching style clashes with the players' cultural beliefs and traditions, creating tension within the team.

Rongen's personal struggles and his initial lack of interest in Samoan culture further complicate the team's training. Despite the challenges, the film portrays the players' dedication to their families, community, and Christian values, which adds depth to their characters.

The film's humor, rooted in Pacific island culture, never crosses into ridicule. Instead, it celebrates the diversity of the team and the community, showcasing the rich traditions of the region. The colorful characters and the film's setting add authenticity to the story, creating a heartfelt and uplifting narrative.

While Next Goal Wins may not break new ground in terms of storytelling, its commitment to portraying the resilience and spirit of the American Samoa soccer team makes it a compelling and enjoyable film. Taika Waititi's dedication to the story and the characters shines through, delivering a heartfelt and uplifting perspective on the underdog's journey.

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