The Reel Review


A down-on-his-luck soccer coach is tapped to reform American Samoa’s lackluster team in 2014, more than a decade after it suffered the worst defeat in World Cup history, a 31-0 loss to Australia. His goal: to score just one goal in competition. Michael Fassbender stars in this sports comedy based on the 2014 documentary of the same name.

Kaimana and Michael Fassbender in Next Goal Wins

Under the helm of Oscar winning co-writer/director Taika Waititi (Jojo Rabbit), who also makes a phoned-in, fourth wall-breaking appearance as the island nation’s pastor, this sports comedy had the legs to be a fun, albeit predictable sports redemption tale in the vein of Ted Lasso. The winsome cast of players is led by Hawaiian-born acting newcomer Kaimana, playing World Cup soccer’s first transgender player Jaiyah Saelua, a fa’afafine, the “third gender” in American Samoa, typically transgender or nonbinary.

Michael Fassbender in Next Goal Wins

But unfortunately even the predictable storytelling falls short, with frustratingly scant, one-dimensional portraits of the team members and an unnecessary focus on bigger name celebrities, namely Elizabeth Moss (The Handmaid’s Tale, Mad Men) and Will Arnett (The Lego Batman Movie) as the coach’s respective ex-wife and manager. The positive portrait of transgender character Jaiyah is a nice touch, but Next Goal Wins itself fails to score.


• Will Arnett replaced Armie Hammer in the film, after Hammer was dropped by his publicist in the wake of a lurid sex scandal.

• The score in the film’s climatic match against Tonga was accurate, although the order of goals was changed to add drama.

• Although set in American Samoa, Next Goal Wins was filmed on the Hawaiian island of Oahu.

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