Review: Taika Waititi’s signature humor, a double-edged sword that can either delight or alienate audiences, is on full display in Next Goal Wins, for better or for worse. The movie, much like a soccer match with sporadic moments of excitement, struggles to maintain a consistent rhythm.
Taika Waititi, a director known to many for his childlike humor and distinctive style, takes a shot at the sports movie genre with Next Goal Wins. Starring Michael Fassbender and notably introducing non-binary, first-time powerhouse actor Kaimana, the film weaves a tale of redemption, resilience, and soccer. As the game slowly unfolds on the pitch, so does the comedic and dramatic narrative, but unfortunately, Waititi’s approach to the subject matter leaves the movie caught between the crossfires of two completely different tones and perspectives.
I have always been a skeptic of Taika Waititi’s movies, as they straddle the line between irreverent comedy and earnest emotion. Next Goal Wins is no exception, as it attempts to tackle serious themes with the filmmaker’s signature humor. The result is a movie that, much like Waititi’s other films, struggles to find a harmonious balance between the two tones.
The film centers on a struggling soccer team and their newly appointed coach, played by Fassbender, who is tasked with turning a losing squad into a semi-formidable force. Michael Fassbender delivers a solid performance, embodying the classic sports movie archetype of the coach facing insurmountable odds. While his portrayal is convincing and occasionally hilarious, it lacks the freshness and originality that could elevate the character beyond the confines of the sports genre.
One of the film’s notable strengths is the introduction of Kaimana, a non-binary actor who steals the screen with their compelling presence. Despite Waititi’s tendency to dilute serious subject matter with crude and unearned humor, Kaimana frequently manages to bring a layer of authenticity to a subplot about transgender identity. Unfortunately, the film fails to delve deep enough into this significant and layered theme, leaving it feeling underdeveloped and somewhat out of place.
Waititi’s signature humor, a double-edged sword that can either delight or alienate audiences, is on full display in Next Goal Wins, for better or for worse. The director, known for his propensity to alternate between complete jokester and indulgent melodramatist, struggles to seamlessly integrate these opposing tones. The film’s humor often feels forced, with jokes being beaten into the ground through multiple callbacks that elicit more eyerolls than actual laughs.
The film’s major flaw lies in its treatment of serious subjects, a flaw exacerbated by Waititi’s inability to offer meaningful insights or unique angles. The transgender identity subplot, while commendable in its inclusion, becomes a casualty of Waititi’s superficial approach, leaving untapped potential for a more profound exploration of the theme.
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Despite the film’s shortcomings, there are moments of genuine humor that showcase Waititi’s comedic prowess. The performances, starting with Fassbender’s at the center, contribute to the film’s watchability, and there are sporadic instances where the jokes genuinely land. These moments prevent the Next Goal Wins from descending into complete mediocrity, offering a silver lining amidst its tonal inconsistencies.
Next Goal Wins exists within the well-trodden territory of feel-good sports movies that have been crafted and re-crafted over the years. It doesn’t bring anything substantially new to the genre, relying overwhelmingly on predictable tropes and story beats. The film feels like a blatant and obvious addition to a cinematic landscape that has seen countless iterations of the same story, just through slightly different lenses.
Comparisons to Waititi’s previous works are inevitable, and Next Goal Wins finds itself wedged between Jojo Rabbit and Thor: Ragnarok. While it avoids the self-centered focus on Waititi as an actor that marred his past projects, it also lacks the studio restraint that reined in some of his worst tendencies in his Marvel films. Next Goal Wins doesn’t quite escape the shadow of its director’s idiosyncrasies, and its inability to strike a harmonious balance between humor and drama leaves it feeling like a missed opportunity.
In the end, the performances, particularly by Fassbender and Kaimana, provide moments of brilliance in an otherwise obnoxious comedy of errors. Next Goal Wins, much like a soccer match with sporadic moments of excitement, struggles to maintain a consistent rhythm. While it may be slightly better than Jojo Rabbit in certain aspects, it falls short of the heights reached by Thor: Ragnarok, leaving it as a somewhat lackluster addition to both Waititi’s filmography and the sports movie genre.
Watch Next Goal Wins in theaters November 17
Film Cast and Credits
Michael Fassbender as Thomas Rongen
Kaimana as Jaiyah Saelua
Oscar Kightley as Tavita
David Fane as Ace
Will Arnett as Alex Magnussen
Elisabeth Moss as Gail
Director: Taika Waititi
Cinematography: Lachlan Milne
Composer: Michael Giacchino