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What parents need to know
Parents need to know that although Next Goal Wins is a documentary about soccer (known internationally as "football'), it's a movie for everyone who likes great underdog tales. It's a true story filled with inspiring messages, wonderful role models, and exhilarating, but not always predictable, results. Footage from the actual games and practices is just extensive enough to make the necessary points and resolve the story; the heart of the film is an in-depth portrayal of the players, the coach, the American Samoan culture and religious faith, and the courage and tenacity it takes for them to succeed. If it's possible to overlook or explain away the Dutch coach's propensity for swearing ("s--t," "f--k," "ass"), families with teens will enjoy watching this film together. One prominent story element concerns the presence on the team of world soccer's first transgender athlete.
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What's the story?
After the most humiliating defeat in World Cup soccer history (Australia: 31, American Samoa: 0) in 2001's qualifying round, it seemed that things couldn't get much worse. But they do. As years pass and the 2014 World Cup preliminary events are about to begin, American Samoa hasn't won a game in decades. They're last in FIFA's World Cup rankings. Their 17-year record is an unbelievable two goals scored vs. 229 goals scored against. NEXT GOAL WINS finds British documentary filmmakers Mike Brett and Steve Jamison on the island to record this lowly team's efforts to redeem themselves. At first it appears to be an insurmountable task. There are no funds, no well-trained players, and no adequate facilities, and the hapless coaches have little hope and even less expertise -- but all that is about to change. Before the FIFA qualifying matches, the U.S. Soccer Federation recruits Dutch coach Thomas Rongen, asking him to travel to American Samoan to perform a one-month miracle. Rongen is fair, skilled, and, without a doubt, a blustering force of nature. Alongside the American Samoans' considerable religious faith, their devotion to one another, and their unrelenting love of the game, Rongen becomes a fairy godfather, wielding his magic wand and taking them to the brink of the redemption they are shown to so greatly deserve.
Is it any good?
This movie's thoroughly enjoyable and and loaded with inspiring messages. Brett and Jamison must consider themselves among the luckiest filmmakers in the world. What they found in American Samoa was moviemaking gold: fascinating characters, including a goalie who'd suffered an unbearable defeat, two photogenic American athletes with ties to American Samoa, soccer's first transgender athlete, and the incredibly charismatic and likable coach sent to save them, which set the story in motion and kept it there. Then, unlikely and suspenseful events took Next Goal Wins to unusual places and to a not-entirely-predictable resolution. The filmmakers’ respectful and tender treatment of the American Samoan people, its culture, and Jaiyah Saelua, a mesmerizing transgender athlete, bring additional depth to an already thoughtful and heartfelt film. Notwithstanding the colorful Coach Rongen’s occasional swearing, it’s great fun.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the qualities it took for the American Samoans to turn their team around in Next Goal Wins. How does the team demonstrate integrity, perseverance, and teamwork? Which of those qualities do you think were distinctly related to their country and culture?
The filmmakers could not have known the outcome of this story when they started filming. It was a risky venture, but it turned out to be lucky. Why do you think true stories about actual events can be so satisfying? Would you have liked the film even if it turned out differently?
Is it necessary to be a soccer fan to enjoy this movie? What are some general life lessons to take away from it?
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