Beulah Koale, Michael Fassbender and the cast of NEXT GOAL WINS. Photo by Hilary Bronwyn Gayle. Courtesy of Searchlight Pictures.© 2023 Searchlight Pictures All Rights Reserved.

Directed by Taika Waititi, Next Goal Wins doubles as both a sports movie and a feel-good film. Whether you love “The Beautiful Game” or have no interest at all, this motivating underdog story will leave you feeling like you can conquer the world.

The original Next Goal Wins was a documentary that debuted at the Tribeca Film Festival on April 19, 2014. Waititi would oversee this brilliant adaption alongside the directors of the original.

“The Beautiful Game” is a globally recognized term for the greatest sport on earth: football (or soccer if you’re American). The most popular sport in the world, “footy”, shows no bias whatsoever. Whether there’s a matchup of heavyweights like France and Spain or an exhibition showdown between Peru and Iceland, somebody will be watching. Next Goal Wins focuses on the sad but true story of the national team for American Samoa. Back in 2001, they lost a record-breaking 31–0 to Australia. It’s the worst loss in international football history. Fast forward to 2011, American Samoa has a goal of qualifying for the 2014 FIFA World Cup. With this in mind, they hired an American coach, Thomas Rongen (Michael Fassbender), to help them reach their objective.

The cast of NEXT GOAL WINS. Photo by Hilary Bronwyn Gayle. Courtesy of Searchlight Pictures. © 2023 Searchlight Pictures All Rights Reserved.

In my opinion, the best way to tell a story is through laughter. This film was marketed as a heartfelt, underdog story, so I was completely taken aback when I found it was riddled with comedy. Within the first 20 minutes, I knew I was in for a treat. All levels of comedy from this incredibly diverse cast was more than I could’ve asked for.

As far as sports video games go, there is no greater soccer franchise than EA Sports FIFA (now known as EA Sports FC). One of the best games they ever made was 2010 FIFA World Cup. The number of hours logged on that game on my PlayStation 3 was well over 1,000. While the regular FIFA 10 provided league play, the World Cup edition was special in that it included the national team of every country on the planet and the game only came out every four years (in-line with the men’s World Cup cycle). I utilized this incredible opportunity to learn about rosters in little known places like Seychelles, Tonga, and of course, American Samoa. While the film felt authentic from beginning to end, it turns out, it was actually filmed in O’ahu, Hawaii. For copious logistical reasons, shooting in American Samoa would’ve been problematic, so production decided O’ahu had everything needed to recreate Pago Pago (American Samoa’s capital). In the end, shooting in Hawaii proved to be the better option for two huge reasons: The Waipi’o Soccer Complex has a FIFA-qualifying field (grass is extremely important in soccer) and the added bonus of consistent sunny weather throughout their 30-day shoot on the island.

Michael Fassbender and Kaimana in NEXT GOAL WINS. Photo by Hilary Bronwyn Gayle. Courtesy of Searchlight Pictures. © 2023 Searchlight Pictures All Rights Reserved.

The culture in American Samoa, as you’ll see in the film, is rooted in Christianity. To date, 98% of the country is Christian, and their faith is reflected in everything they do, including sports. Rongen is confused when he can’t find anyone in the middle of the day. Turns out, there’s a bell that notifies locals that it’s time for a prayer break. They show their faithfulness by their actions, and it turns out, Rongen is someone that could benefit from their patience. His short-tempered behavior is tested when he clashes with Jaiyah Saelua (Kaimana) over her sexual preference. When Rongen asks Tavita how they all deal with Jaiyah, he informed the American that they believed there wasn’t anything wrong with how God made her. Jaiyah was the first transgender soccer player to play in a FIFA World Cup Qualifying Match.

I couldn’t imagine losing 31-0 in a competitive match in any sport. In basketball, scoring 31 field goals would equate to 62 points. In American football, 31 touchdowns (excluding extra point attempts) equates to 186 points. No matter how you look at it, it’s an unimaginable loss. Now, thankfully, mental health is a subject that’s become more commonplace and that’s all I could think about after revisiting that devastating loss so long ago. To help get a better understanding, I tapped the knowledge of goalkeeper trainer Diego Casillas.

[I can’t win!] Then lose, lose with us.”

Head of the Football Federation of American Samoa, Tavita, to coach Thomas Rongen

“So I’ve never been on that bad of a scoreline but I’ve been on some that were 10-0”, he begins. “It’s depressing, it sucks.” At that point, the best way to help the goalkeeper is to erase it. Make your best efforts in pushing it to the back of their mind and finish out the match. “After the match, move on. You don’t show film or analyze anything. You don’t want to risk triggering that experience for the goalkeeper. If you do that, you’ll dig the goalkeeper in a hole.” To give more credence to his statement, an article from The Independent said those closest to Salapu claimed he used the same aforementioned video game as therapy, a coping mechanism. Remember, that video game came out nine years after the record-breaking loss to Australia.

Oscar Kightley and Michael Fassbender in NEXT GOAL WINS. Photo by Hilary Bronwyn Gayle. Courtesy of Searchlight Pictures. © 2023 Searchlight Pictures All Rights Reserved.

Some good advice for goalkeepers to maintain good mental health is consistency. “If goalkeepers know what they’re going to get, how the environment they’re in works, they can ask questions and learn. The training environment should stay as consistent as possible,” says Casillas. “But when it’s inconsistent, that’s when mental health is out the window.”

Next Goal Wins gets a 9.5 out of 10. It really shouldn’t be under sold, this film is comedy gold. It’s pure comedy that just happens to be about soccer. Michael Fassbender, Oscar Kightley, and Rachel House are an absolute treasure to behold on screen. The chemistry is magical and the positivity flows freely through this film. It’s rated PG-13 for strong language and crude material, but the thing about feel-good movies is that you’re guaranteed to leave the theater… feeling good.

Next Goal Wins is set to hit theaters this Friday, Nov. 17.

-Jon Jones

Photos: Courtesy of Searchlight Pictures

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