Next Goal Wins Movie Review 0 115

next-goal-wins-movie-review

Next Goal Wins is a small but aspiring and inspirational documentary about the American Samoa football team who infamously lost to Australia 31-0. It chronicles the team’s efforts as they try to recover from both the indignity of such a humiliating defeat, leading to them being named the worst football team in the world, and to qualify for the 2014 FIFA World Cup.

As should be the case with all good documentaries that zero in on not only a specific subject but a specific part of that subject, Next Goal Wins is accessible to both fans of football and those who couldn’t care less about it. If, like me, you fall into the latter category this is a delightfully accessible story even for an outsider looking in that is a compelling exploration of what it means to pick yourself up, dust yourself off and keep at it. Don’t get me wrong, for those interested in the sport it provides much to dig your teeth into – the football itself is shot with a slick professionalism – but you don’t need to have an interest to enjoy it.

We are introduced to the team, most of them non-paid players who have regular lives with regular jobs, as down on their luck but still with a twinkle of hope in their eyes that one day they will show people they can compete, if not exactly win. They then decide to inject some vital discipline and motivation into the team in the form of hired Dutch-born, American coach Thomas Rongen.

Rongen appears at first to be a no-nonsense hard-ass who couldn’t give a damn about anything in the player’s lives but how they play on the field. This is much needed at first but Rongen soon becomes not only an integral part of the why the team is doing much better than they were before but a true part of the team’s world, sharing their heart, soul and unwavering determination to prove themselves. He is a real character, as they say, always a joy to watch whether he’s literally sliding down in the muck with the team as they try to perfect tackling to giving the most rousing sporting speeches since Coach Taylor in Friday Night Lights. And with Rongen, the documentary manages to create a great sense of character development most narrative movies would kill for.

The film also does a fantastic job of delving into the different aspects of the game including how the diverse culture of their country impacts on it and more specifically how the individual players approach it, both in terms of playing style and juggling the playing with everyday life. One of the pinpointed stories involves Nicky Salapu, the goalkeeper who feels the weight of the perpetual defeat, and especially that epic loss of 31-0, on his shoulders more than the rest of his fellow teammates as he is the last line of defence for them. While another particularly fascinating subplot involves the transgender player on the team, Jaiyah Saelua, exploring how her gender unfortunately affects the way people view her in a male-dominated sport and how she feels safe in the American Samoa team. Alhough there’s less time devoted to majority of the players than there probably should be, with more of a focus on a select few, the film nonetheless gives interesting insight into the mindset it takes to keep at it even when failure seems to be around every corner.

Directors Mike Brett and Steve Jamison have made an impressive debut with this passionate crowd-pleaser. It’s an enjoyably breezy watch that never gets bogged down while at the same time chucking us head first into its world, giving us an insighftul, well-rounded view of the sport and the people. While it does labor its point towards the end of the film as it searches for that perfect sign-off line, that’s something that can be easily forgiven when it’s so well-intentioned. It paints the beautiful game, well, beautifully and tells an inspiring story about human perseverance, determination and unbreakable spirit in the face of adversity.

Previous ArticleNext Article
I'm a freelance film reviewer and blogger with over 10 years of experience writing for various different reputable online and print publications. In addition to my running, editing and writing for Thoughts On Film, I am also the film critic for The National, the newspaper that supports an independent Scotland, covering the weekly film releases, film festivals and film-related features. I have a passion for all types of cinema, and have a particular love for foreign language film, especially South Korean and Japanese cinema. Favourite films include The Big Lebowski, Pulp Fiction and 2001: A Space Odyssey.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Movie Review: Home Again 0 530

This review was previously published at The National.

Despite an obviously talented leading lady in Reese Witherspoon and a family pedigree behind the camera in making this sort of rom-com flutter sweetly off the screen, Home Again struggles to finds its way out of cloying cliché and narrative contrivance.

This is the directorial debut of Hallie Myers-Shyer, daughter of genre stalwart Nancy Meyers (The Holiday, What Women Want). It focuses on the life of Alice Kinney (Witherspoon), a single mum who has just turned 40 and tries her best to raise her two daughters Isabel (Lola Flanery) and Rosie (Eden Grace Redfield) in Los Angeles with her job as an interior decorator.

Freshly separated from her British music mogul husband Austen (Michael Sheen), she embarks on a drunken birthday night celebration that leads to her meeting a trio of 20-something lads – Harry (Pico Alexander), George (Jon Rudnitsky) and Teddy (Nat Wolff) – who are trying their best to break into the Hollywood movie business.

The young men improbably end up staying in Alice’s guest house while they work on finishing the script for their first film. Before long they become an integral part of her life, from Alice embarking on a romantic relationship with Harry to George helping out Isabel with her school play. To quote the title of the director’s mother’s 2009 film – it’s complicated.

Except the film mistakes the kind of enjoyably frothy complexity exemplified by the best of the genre for skin-clawing convolution that renders much of the romantic and comedically-tinged drama of Alice’s life lacking in authenticity. Not that it needs the ring of truth that comes with, say, a Ken Loach picture but you need to be able to invest and believe in these characters’ lives as presented.

The approach to gender and generational relationships is simplistic which, of course, is nothing new to a genre that, at least in its Hollywoodized state, so often throws up films meant to be taken as easy-going fluff. But it’s particularly frustrating here when it squanders the potential thrown up with the initial concept of a woman trying to find herself again once she’s out of a stale relationship by entering into one with a much younger man.

It strangely seems far more interested in the plight of the three young men working as three cogs of one creative machine – director/producer, writer and actor – to get ahead in the movie business.  But even then it smacks of implausibility, like a cheap rom-com version of the bromance found in Entourage but without any of the snarky wit or Hollywood satire. Despite decent chemistry between a likeable assembled cast, Home Again is a tough pill to swallow as it rings false through and through.

3.5 out of 10

Movie Review: Goodbye Christopher Robin 0 556

This review was previously published at The National.

The world of celebrated children’s author A. A. Milne and the creation of his beloved Winnie the Pooh stories are chronicled in this frightfully polite biopic from director Simon Curtis (My Week with Marilyn) that flirts with dipping its toes into darker waters but steadfastly clings to safe tropes and always with its top button firmly fastened.

We start off in 1941 where we find an ageing Milne (Domhnall Gleeson in questionable make-up and greyed hair) and his wife Daphne (Margot Robbie) living on their secluded East Sussex farm. They receive a telegram informing them that their son, C.R. Milne, is missing presumed dead after heading off to fight in World War Two.

We then jump back in time to Milne on the front lines of the First World War. He returns from the fighting a changed man; suffering from PTSD (popped balloons evoking sudden gunfire et al.), becoming increasingly sick of just making people laugh with his West End plays and the general hustle-bustle that comes with big city life.

He convinces his reluctant wife to move to the country for some peace and quiet and where his infant son, Christopher Robin (played by Will Tilston at the younger age, Alex Lawther as he gets older), can go on the childhood adventures he deserves with the support of loving nanny Olive (Kelly Macdonald).

Settling into the kind of serene life he craves, he is inspired to create Winnie the Pooh and the rest of his soon-to-be-beloved friends inspired by the stuffed animals with which his young son has become so enamoured. Unfortunately for Christopher – referred to by everyone as “Billy Moon” – his father uses his real name in the stories, turning him into one of the most famous boys in the nation.

Despite the obvious attraction of it exploring the world famous Pooh stories, it’s a film much more interested in the effect it has on a fractured family clinging on to peacefulness, not least the unwanted attention thrust upon a young boy who simply isn’t equipped to handle it and how his parents carry on oblivious.

If anything it takes a curiously bleak outlook on what these stories mean to the world once they’ve been put out there, conveying a somewhat confusing message for a film that ultimately wants us to celebrate these stories as immortally cherished tales; that the Winnie the Pooh embraced immediately by the public and has now stood the test of time for almost a century is in some way missing the point of what it truly means to the author and a son who, inadvertently or not, was used as a tool of innocence to sell the idea of an idyllic childhood in Milne’s Hundred Acre Wood.

It’s bolstered by almost uniformly moving performances; Gleeson plays Milne with a kind of damaged empathy that makes you feel like you get to know the author beyond the public persona. Macdonald is oftentimes heart-breaking as Christopher’s devoted caregiver and Tilston walks away with the film as the adorably sweet-natured young Christopher. It’s only with Robbie that the film makes a misstep; she’s miscast as Milne’s wife and never stepping out of the shadow of cold motherly cliché.

In spite of its darker leanings, the film remains too buttoned up to properly wrestle with those themes in any sort of lasting way, far too polite to ever dive head first into the murky waters into which the drama intermittently peers.

Wrapped in Ben Smithard’s handsomely old-fashioned cinematography and soaked in Carter Burwell’s perpetually swelling score, it’s an aesthetically and emotionally appealing but nevertheless fairly vanilla period biopic best suited to being enjoyed on a rainy Sunday afternoon with tea and biscuits.

6.5 out of 10

Warning: mysql_query(): Access denied for user 'rtmiller'@'localhost' (using password: NO) in /home2/rtmiller/public_html/wp-content/plugins/vsf-simple-stats/vsf_simple_stats_shutdown.php on line 17

Warning: mysql_query(): A link to the server could not be established in /home2/rtmiller/public_html/wp-content/plugins/vsf-simple-stats/vsf_simple_stats_shutdown.php on line 17

Warning: mysql_fetch_row() expects parameter 1 to be resource, boolean given in /home2/rtmiller/public_html/wp-content/plugins/vsf-simple-stats/vsf_simple_stats_shutdown.php on line 17

Warning: mysql_query(): Access denied for user 'rtmiller'@'localhost' (using password: NO) in /home2/rtmiller/public_html/wp-content/plugins/vsf-simple-stats/vsf_simple_stats_shutdown.php on line 45

Warning: mysql_query(): A link to the server could not be established in /home2/rtmiller/public_html/wp-content/plugins/vsf-simple-stats/vsf_simple_stats_shutdown.php on line 45

Warning: mysql_query(): Access denied for user 'rtmiller'@'localhost' (using password: NO) in /home2/rtmiller/public_html/wp-content/plugins/vsf-simple-stats/vsf_simple_stats_shutdown.php on line 47

Warning: mysql_query(): A link to the server could not be established in /home2/rtmiller/public_html/wp-content/plugins/vsf-simple-stats/vsf_simple_stats_shutdown.php on line 47

Warning: mysql_fetch_row() expects parameter 1 to be resource, boolean given in /home2/rtmiller/public_html/wp-content/plugins/vsf-simple-stats/vsf_simple_stats_shutdown.php on line 47