top of page

NEXT GOAL WINS | USA | 2023 | 103m | English


The tiny nation of American Samoa (population 45,000) was never going to be an international football powerhouse, but a 31-0 loss to Australia put them in the record books in the worst possible way. Dutch-American manager Thomas Rongen (Michael Fassbender) lands in the slow-paced island community determined to inject footballing discipline into the team as they make a qualifying run for the 2014 FIFA World Cup.

But even if the outcome — chronicled in a documentary by Mike Brett and Steve Jamison — is known, the pleasure comes from watching the characters on the pitch, Indigenous Samoan players who mostly sucked, mostly knew it, and still played their hearts out.

Fassbender is the star here, in a rare comic turn, but the discovery is Kaimana, who plays real-life team member Jaiyah. Like Jaiyah, Kaimana is a member of American Samoa's fa’afafine or non-binary community and delivers a performance that's warm, deep, and commanding in every scene.

Like Eagle vs. Shark, Boy, and Hunt for the Wilderpeople, Next Goal Wins is rich with both Waititi's sideways humour, and his embrace of the weird, vulnerable, and unpredictable in all of us.

TIFF REVIEW BY: Darren Zakus

RATING  4.5 out of 5

Next Goal Wins is a hilarious, heart warming, and truly winning cinematic experience that only Taika Watiti could conjure up that is not only the feel good film of the Toronto International Film Festival, but of the entire year. 


Everyone loves an inspirational true story sports film, especially if it is about a group of underdogs. These stories always have audiences cheering in their seats as they watch the athletes chase greatness despite the obstacles facing them. Though, audiences have not seen a sports film like Next Goal Wins, which tells the story of a disgraced football coach who takes a job in American Samoa coaching their infamously terrible team, known for their humiliating 31-0 loss at FIFA. Combined with Waititi’s humour and respect for the indigenous culture of American Samoa, audiences are guaranteed to leave the cinema with the biggest smile on their face after witnessing this remarkable true story. 


With the future of his career as a football coach in jeopardy, Thomas Rongen is forced to take the role of the new coach of the American Samoa national team, who are considered the worst football team in the world. Though he is desperate to get out of American Samoa, Rongen soon discovers the vibrant passion of the community, breaking down his walls and channels his efforts into turning the team into a formidable opponent for their upcoming OFC World Cup Qualifiers match.


When it comes to the story of Next Goal Wins, the screenplay follows the blueprint for a true story sports genre very closely. We have training montages, personal drama for the players and coach, a rival team, and a high stakes match for the film’s third act. Though, this is never a concern as Watiti finds a humongous heart for the film that is on display from start to finish. This team is truly one of the worst sports teams you have ever seen on camera, but the infectious energy and optimism each player exuberates for the entire film will leave a massive smile on your face. The film is full of Watiti’s signature humour which will have audiences laughing throughout, ensuring that you will have to watch the film a second time as you will miss some of the jokes as the laughter is so loud. And as he’s done in his previous films, there are some wonderful needle drops that you would not expect to appear in this film, but perfectly match each moment of the film. If you are not a fan of Watiti’s previous works, you are not going to appreciate his screwball energy and goofy jokes that are sprinkled throughout the film, but fans of his will thoroughly enjoy his cinematic flair to this true story. 


Every aspect of the story and Watiti’s direction builds to the film’s final act, the big match OFC World Cup Qualifiers, and it is an outstanding sequence. It encapsulates the heart of the team and the film’s story in the climatic match that audiences expect from the genre, that armed with the film’s humour and Watiti’s unique way of telling this scene, is guaranteed to have audiences simultaneously cheering in their seats while holding their breath in anticipation of the match’s outcome.


The heart of the film is Jaiyah Saelua, the fa’afafine player on the team portrayed by Kaimana. Of all the individuals portrayed in the film, Jaiyah has the most developed story arc in the film as you watch them struggle with accepting the fact that they won’t be able to continue playing on the team once their transition finishes. At the same time, Jiayah is a vibrant and lively individual, full of compassion for their team and unafraid to put their new coach in his place to stand up for what they believe in. Kaimana radiates Jiayah’s spirit in their performance, running away with the entire film every second they are on camera in a truly dazzling performance, and it was great to see a fa’afafine cast in the role. While Jaiyah is not the main character of the story, it is Jaiyah’s story that audiences will resonate the most with, and the character you will remember long after watching the film.


Leading the film is Michael Fassbender as Thomas Rongen, the coach who finds himself coaching in American Samoa to salvage his career. Fassbender nails the mean spiritedness of Rongen while he is frustrated with his life with a dryness and indifference, but as the film progress, Fassbender humanizes Rongen and breaks down his walls and lets the audience in to his pain as he embraces the American Samoan way. Oscar Kightley is a lot of fun as the team manager Tavita, generating some standout comedic moments, while Elisabeth Moss is a warm and welcoming presence in the film as Gail, Rongen’s wife. And just because Watiti himself stars in the film as an American Samoan priest, and narrates the film, the film is infused with his cocky energy throughout. 

It may just feel like another Taika Watiti film, but there is an infectious, joyful energy to Next Goal Wins that makes this another high scoring, true story, sports comedy. Full of laughter and heart from start to finish, Taika Watiti’s telling of the American Samoa football team’s rising like a phoenix out of the ashes is a true crowd pleaser that will have audiences erupting into laughter and cheering throughout, but it is Kamina’s portrayal of Jaiyah Saelua that is the beating heart of the entire film and makes this one of the most heartwarming films of the entire year.

bottom of page