When the pandemic arrived, a modest football saga like “Ted Lasso” could convey its polished eccentricity and stimulating goodness into our homes and convince us all that one day we would put life’s balls in the back of the net again. But now, when even that fictional coach has left the field, for a bad-team-does-good story to be worth our time, we need something significantly better than stale, staccato, game-challenged positivity. disgust that Taika WaititiThe phrase “Next target wins” sells poorly.
What’s especially strange is that “Next Goal Wins,” unlike “Ted Lasso,” is actually based on an authentic underdog story: how the world’s worst national soccer team, from the small island of American Samoa , tried to recover from this situation. the most humiliating international defeat in world sport, a 31-0 drubbing by Australia in 2001. Seeking outside help to ensure the seemingly achievable achievement of scoring just one goal in their next chance to qualify for the World Cup, the ragtag team hired to the Dutch. Veteran coach Thomas Rongen to orchestrate a turnaround. And guess what happened? (If you’ve seen the 2014 documentary of the same name about this story, you already know this. But you know it anyway.)
Still, when real life hands you formula, you should check the label before heating the bottle and giving it to the audience. Here, the problems begin with ingredient number one: the white savior narrative. The fact that Waikiki and co-writer Iain Morris have an on-screen character voicing that problematic trope from the start doesn’t make it any less uncomfortable to see such an antiquated cliché come to the fore again, as the bearded, sallow, divorced, hard-drinking Rongen (Michael Fassbender) appears to instill discipline in his carefree pupils.
Then there is the excessive cultural cuteness. I’ve never been to American Samoa, but surely there’s more to this scenic paradise and its proud people than those provincial jokes Waititi prefers to three-dimensional people. It’s a shame because Oscar Kightley, as president of the American Samoa soccer federation, and David Fane, as a portly, good-natured assistant coach, too soft to be inspiring, are charismatic presences, even if they are reduced to jokes. We’re a long way from the atmospheric, personalized charm that marked the New Zealand filmmaker’s rise to prominence in films like “The Hunt for the Wild.”
Additives to “Next Target Wins” include rich, insensitively handled representative messages. Non-binary actor Kaimana, as pioneering fa’afafine athlete Jaiyah (one of the most formidable members of the team, but who at the time had not fully transitioned), gives the film its most engaging character, providing enough power stellar and emotional nuances to compensate for the fact that he is asked to carry the majority of the film’s sincerity. (“Fa’afafine” is the general Samoan term for a kind of identity they consider a third gender.) Even as your eye gravitates toward Kaimana for some semblance of honest sentiment, Waititi can’t help but make even this depiction of a trans rights icon feel like lip service rather than organic.
The overall flavor profile indicates that Waititi, whose cartoonish appearance as a priest seems like an afterthought, has grown bored of his signature style of goofy elevation. Going by the self-referential and unfunny jokes (“The Karate Kid,” “The Matrix,” “Taken”), one would swear the Oscar-winning filmmaker was fighting the urge to make a total parody. Even Fassbender seems baffled as to whether he’s supposed to change things or follow the plan. The film is not sure of itself either. When a character launches into a tearful confession of severe personal pain and your first thought is that the monologue will end with “Just kidding,” you know the script is in trouble.
‘Next goal wins’
Classification: PG-13, for strong language and crude material.
Execution time: 1 hour, 43 minutes
Playing: In wide release
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