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WATCH: A closeted football player tackles identity & masculinity in this coming-of-age sports drama

Image Credit: ‘Riley,’ Windsor Film Company

For high school senior Dakota Riley (Jake Holley), life’s about routine, about playing by the rules.

A star football player on the varsity team, expectations are sky-high that he might start an athletic career post-graduation. Of course, he’s also got to keep up that GPA, balancing school work with practice and with the affections of his friend who’s not quite his girlfriend.

But the image Dakota’s carefully built for himself—that high-achieving, All-American jock—begins to crumble when he realizes he can no longer ignore his true self.

The upcoming indie drama Riley is a story many of us may be familiar with: The closeted high school teen who has to reconcile their burgeoning identity with what the think the rest of the world—family, friends, teammates —wants them to be.

From first-time feature filmmaker Benjamin Howard, the coming-of-age tale is heavily inspired by his own teenaged years (and even filmed around his hometown). A high school football player himself, the writer-director tells The Daily Bruin he didn’t “[bypass] any of the details” in order to tell the most authentic, honest story possible.

An emotional first teaser for the film doesn’t give away too many plot specifics, cutting quickly between scenes on the football field and quick flashes of what’s really weighing on Dakota’s mind—namely, a couple different guys in his life.

Image Credit: ‘Riley,’ Windsor Film Company

It’s also clear that Dakota’s journey will have him confronting toxic masculinity head-on, as we spot quick glimpses of locker room tussles and more than a few shots of our protagonist sporting a pretty brutal looking black eye.

Speaking with The Daily Bruin, lead actor Jake Holley shares he was drawn to the vulnerability Howard brought to the project, recognizing what a difficult time it can be in so many young men’s lives:

“We were questioning our identities (more) than we let on, but in that time and space… it was a huge heartbreaking fear for lots of young men,” the star says “I haven’t lived there in a while, but I hope that’s changed. I know the world is slow, but it’s hopefully changing for the better.”

“For queer people, sometimes the hardest part of coming out is coming out to yourself,” the director adds. “I wanted to explore that and really dive into this internal struggle I went through that I think a lot of gay men have gone through.”

After raising funds through Film Independent’s fiscal sponsorship program, Riley just made its worldwide debut at the Calgary International Film Festival, with an encore presentation tonight, September 26. Stay tuned to the Windsor Film Company Instagram page for future festival dates and more information.

Check out the first teaser for Riley below:

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