Next Goal Wins Feels Like A '90s Throwback, But It Forgot One Crucial Component

"Next Goal Wins" stumbled out of the gate in its opening weekend at the box office, which is unfortunate news for director Taika Waititi. After last year's disappointing "Thor: Love and Thunder," I was hoping his football/soccer-themed comedy would feel like a return to the types of smaller, more personal movies he made earlier in his career. Sadly, the film is a total misfire. I didn't laugh a single time (comedy is subjective, of course, so naturally your mileage may vary on that front, but I personally found it to be painfully unfunny), and it explores its story of a team overcoming adversity through the myopic lens of its white coach, played by Michael Fassbender. There are a couple of nods to what the game means to the players and the culture of American Samoa, but the film is frustratingly committed to seeing most of the action through the eyes of Fassbender's Thomas Rongen, and basically congratulating him for eventually learning to tolerate the existence of trans people.

The movie is clearly trying to emulate the types of sports movies we used to see fairly often in the 1990s, but unfortunately, it totally whiffs when it comes to capturing an essential part of what makes those types of films work: In "Next Goal Wins," we don't get to know the members of the team.

Next Goal Wins fails at one of Taika Waititi's greatest strengths

In films like "What We Do in the Shadows" and "Hunt for the Wilderpeople," Waititi excelled at highlighting supporting casts that felt like real human beings (or aliens, or vampires, depending on the movie). Even in something as bombastic as "Thor: Ragnarok," he facilitated a connection between the audience and the alien pals Korg and Miek, who leave a lasting impression amid the zaniness on display. But in "Next Goal Wins," I could only tell you one player's name on the main soccer team. The dynamics between players are often the highlights of sports movies — think about the characters in "Remember the Titans," "The Mighty Ducks,"  and even "Any Given Sunday," which is specifically referenced in this movie. In those films, the players get their moment to shine, and while it may feel a bit formulaic and occasionally unrealistic, we accept it because we know the type of movie we're watching. Here, the players are completely hung out to dry.

If Waititi and co-writer Iain Morris didn't bother investing the time and energy into developing the players, why should the audience bother caring about them?

For more thoughts on this, check out today's episode of the /Film Daily podcast:

We also touch on "The Marvels" and its exceptionally bad second weekend at the box office, how "The Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes" performed in its opening frame, how "Trolls Band Together" actually managed to hold its own in a competitive weekend, and more.

You can subscribe to /Film Daily on Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Overcast, and Spotify, and send your feedback, questions, comments, concerns, and mailbag topics to us at Please leave your name and general geographic location in case we mention your e-mail on the air.