Fact: In the 2001 World Cup qualifiers, Australia handed out the worst drubbing in the history of international soccer … to American Samoa.
It was a 31 – nil rout.
Things for the island nation didn’t improve thereafter either.
A decade later American Samoa was still the laughing stock of world football.
Next Goal Wins is the story of what happened next, told as a comedy.
First up, the president of the American Samoan Football Federation sacks the coach.
Then, he engages the services of a bad-tempered front man who has been sacked from three similar roles.
Among those that axed him from his most recent position was his ex-wife, who has now taken up with another member of the selection committee.
What he is confronted with when he reluctantly lands on the island is a basket case of a side.
Playing hard ball, which is what he is used to, doesn’t work.
Among the team members he has to deal with are a goalie who trips over his own feet and a forward who doesn’t seem to know where the goals are.
That is not to overlook a sensitive player who is transitioning.
All the president is looking for is a single goal, which would be an international first for American Samoa.
Getting it, though, will be anything but straight forward … and will certainly test the new coach’s staying power more than once.
Taika Watiti has crafted a small, feelgood movie, which is heartfelt, funny and entertaining.
He wrote Next Goal Wins with Iain Morris and directs the film.
It presents the American Samoans as salt of the earth, happy people who don’t take life too seriously. In fact, the picture particularly plays up that trait.
As much as the president wants to break the team’s perennial duck, he is more interested in the camaraderie that comes with being a member of the team.
Several of the sight gags are laugh aloud funny.
It is the characters that make the piece and there is no shortage of those.
It is hard to go past Oscar Kightley as the good-natured president Tavita.
He plays his character as intent on retaining the essence of what it is to be an American Samoan.
Nothing seems to faze him and he likes it that way.
Michael Fassbender plays imported coach Thomas Rongen like the fish out of water that he is.
Rongen gets angry and belligerent, but he comes to learn that there is more than one way to skin a cat.
Fassbender has fun with the role. He leans into it.
Kaimana brings sensitivity to her role as transitioning footballer Jaiyah.
A ridiculously, over the top, handlebar mustachioed Taika Waititi narrates for maximum comic impact and plays the role of a priest.
Next Goal Wins is simply joyous and buoyant, truth telling with a decidedly humorous bent … and as far as I am concerned, it scores!
Rated M, I give it a 7½ out of 10.