By Roger Costa
NEXT GOAL WINS
Oscar nominee Michael Fassbender is back to reclaim his star power with this feel-good and heart-warming sports comedy drama channeling one failed coach attempting into redemption and new beginnings.
Fassbender commands the show as the harsh, rude and temperamental European coach with a secret traumatic wound, who is sent to train the worst soccer team in the world located in the American Samoa. His company sees the opportunity as a healing getaway; for him it is torture. As soon as he arrives in the Island he gets in trouble with the cultural, ethical and moral clashes, making it a living hell for himself and for the players in the team. He also has a gender related issue prejudice to deal with as he is facing the challenge of coaching the first trans player and constantly clashes with her behavior. This element is rapidly rectified, and eventually becomes the central and most compelling relationship in the narrative. It is a buddy movie like no other, and the funniest movie ever made about soccer practice and devotion.
Based on a true story, director Taika Waititi conducts the material with his usual and very efficient wit and sensibility that always comes with the perfect balance, extracting sincere humor, relevant cynicism and relatable social commentary. What impresses the most in the way he crafts his works, is how everything seems to be a fun game, in the likes of Spielberg. In other words, his films, like those of Spielberg, carry a familiar sense of a child project, as if they were conceived within so much fun, that only someone who has a child soul could’ve pulled it off.
The cast is incredibly funny and convincing and it is easy to become attached to their challenges and expectations. Each player has a different drama and difficult personality, and feels intimidated about losing again. They aim to score a World Cup qualification after being humiliated with the horrendous 31-0 final score at the 2001 FIFA match. Their previous coach (played by the great Oscar Kightley) who is also the tour guide for the foreigner has many lessons of his own on how to coordinate the game, but mostly, he knows like nobody else, how to deal with the hurdles of life and the unpredictable ways of connecting people.
As for Fassbender, who has been absent from the screen for a few years, taking care of his family and his car-racing hobby, it is good to have him back, as he has showed us he is one this century’s most accomplished and versatile actors. His choices are always unpredictable and bold. Wherever he goes, you know for sure, it gotta be good. He never misses out, even when he plays Magneto. Here, he gives a remarkably funny, subtly aggressive and unexpectedly moving performance, which should get him a Golden Globe nod and some Oscar buzz as well. He proves he is on top of his game. We are grateful for it.
(Searchlight. 11/17. Regal Union Square. Director Waititi will be in attendance for Q&A’s at select screenings).
Finnish master Aki Kaurismaki returns with another unique, deadpan socioeconomic modern tragic fable, reflecting on the working class struggle for stability, love, healing and progress. Winner of the Jury Prize at this year’s Cannes Film Festival, the veteran director picks two charismatic desperate souls as the core of his new moral tale. A supermarket lady worker and an industrial man are interconnected and fall in love after many hurdles and losses in this eccentric, darkly funny and heartbreaking look at injustice and the cruelty of capitalism. It is such a gentle, tender film that praises compassion, decency, honesty and humanitarian values, all while aware of the world’s collapsing. There’s also a lovely, insightful original song that should be consider for Awards. Plus Kaurismaki makes one of the most genuinely beautiful homages to the seventh art in recent memory. One of the year’s best.
(MUBI. 11/17. Film at Lincoln Center. Actors Alma Pöysti & Jussi Vatanen will be in attendance for Q&A’s at select screenings).