The Big Picture
- Taika Waititi’s sports comedy-drama Next Goal Wins features the underdog American Samoa national team in their quest for their first-ever victory.
- Inspired by a 2014 documentary of the same name, Waititi puts his own twist on the film, which faced delays due to the pandemic.
- The standout performance in the film is by Jaiyuh Saelua, a transgender woman who plays a crucial role and brings heart to the story.
Taika Waititi is front and center in the latest trailer for his upcoming sports comedy-drama, Next Goal Wins, which sees the ultimate underdogs in sports attempt to get their first-ever victory. Starring Michael Fassbender as Thomas Rongen, a Dutch soccer coach thrust into an unexpected challenge, the film unfolds as Rongen takes charge of the world’s least successful soccer team, situated on the opposite side of the globe. The trailer blends some talking head footage of Waititi detailing the story along with humorous clips of the team in action.
Following a devastating world record defeat in a competitive international football match — a demoralizing 31-0 loss to Australia — the American Samoa national team embarked on a quest to unearth a hidden spark within their ranks by appointing an innovative coach with unconventional ideas. This remarkable journey, documented in a 2014 film also called Next Goal Wins, captivated Waititi’s attention.
Witnessing the potential and promise within the documentary, Waititi was inspired to put his own trademark twist on the film. Although the sports drama began its development journey concurrently with Thor: Love and Thunder, the onset of pandemic-related delays and the studio’s frequent schedule adjustments hindered its smooth path to the silver screen. Nevertheless, the eagerly awaited story of the American Samoa national team is finally set to grace the big screen, bringing their incredible journey to audiences in the near future.
The Beating Heart of The American Samoa Team
Collider’s Ross Bonaime found some highlights in the film, particularly the performance of Jaiyuh Saelua as Kaimana, a fa’afafine football player. Fa’afafine—meaning “in the manner of woman”—are assigned male at birth but embody both masculine and feminine gender traits in a way that is considered unique to Samoa and wider Polynesia. As Bonaime said:
The beating heart, however, of Next Goal Wins is Kaimana as Jaiyah Saelua, a transgender woman who is also one of the most promising players and the biggest help to Rongen. While the rest of the team are mostly known for some one-note joke or gag about their playing (one player can’t quit sliding and another is known as football’s D’Angelo because of his ripped body), Jaiyah is one of the rare characters who gets a well-rounded arc and is one of the few players who stands out among the team. Next Goal Wins never quite finds the heart that often makes Waititi’s films so powerful, but the closest it comes is in Kaimana’s performance.
Next Goal Wins had its World Premiere at the 2023 Toronto International Film Festival and comes to theaters on November 17. You can see the new trailer, fronted by Waititi, down below.