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Anna Mae Yu Lamentillo

Apr 7, 2024

Benjamin Howard's 'Riley': A directorial debut that captures the heart of coming out

In "Riley," Benjamin Howard crafts a poignant and deeply personal narrative that resonates far beyond the confines of its high school setting. This film, based on Howard's own experiences, delves into the life of Dakota Riley, a high school football star grappling with his sexuality amidst the pressures of adolescence, societal expectations, and the fear of rejection. What sets "Riley" apart is not just its storyline but the way Howard handles this delicate subject matter—with nuance, sensitivity, and a raw honesty that is both heart-wrenching and uplifting.

Howard's direction is masterful, balancing the film's more intense, introspective moments with lighter, more humorous ones, creating a well-rounded viewing experience that captures the complexity of coming of age. The script, pulled from Howard's lived experiences, serves as a strong foundation, allowing the film to explore themes of identity, acceptance, and the universal desire to be understood.

At the heart of "Riley" is Jake Holley's standout performance as Dakota Riley. Holley brings a depth and vulnerability to the role that is truly captivating. His portrayal of Riley is nuanced and multifaceted, allowing the audience to feel every moment of doubt, fear, joy, and triumph alongside him. Holley's chemistry with the supporting cast, particularly Colin McCalla, adds layers to the narrative, highlighting the importance of connection, friendship, and acceptance.

The film's visual storytelling, led by director of photography Michael Elias Thomas, complements the narrative beautifully. Thomas's use of color, light, and composition adds an additional layer of emotion to each scene, making the film not just a story to be followed but an experience to be felt.

Riley" does not shy away from the complexities of its protagonist's journey. Instead, it embraces them, offering a story that is both specific and universal. The film's ending, optimistic yet grounded in reality, underscores the message that acceptance, both of oneself and by others, is a journey—one that does not end with coming out but begins there.

Benjamin Howard's "Riley" is a testament to the power of storytelling. It's a reminder that films can, indeed, touch hearts, change minds, and perhaps even offer solace to those who see parts of their own stories reflected on screen. In a world where representation matters more than ever, "Riley" stands out as a beacon of hope, a celebration of authenticity, and a call to be kinder to ourselves and others.

Jake Holley's performance is a revelation, and under Benjamin Howard's skilled direction, "Riley" is not just a film but an important cultural artifact that will surely leave its mark on audiences and the landscape of LGBTQ+ cinema.

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