‘Mustache’ tells charming tale of self-acceptance

Mimi Calzada, Life&Arts Desk Editor

Imran J. Khan’s feature directorial debut “Mustache” tells the tale of Ilyas (Atharva Verma), a Pakistani-American boy who struggles with transitioning from a private Islamic school to a public high school. On top of that, he faces bullying for his mustache, which he isn’t allowed to shave. 

Verma shines and absolutely delights in his portrayal of Ilyas. The lead actor pulls off emotionally-charged moments while still staying true to the light-hearted nature of the film, especially in scenes where he stumbles across an acting class in his school and joins them during his free period. He easily stands out as an impressive talent to watch out for in the future. 

Chock-full of ‘90s nostalgia, including the characters passing time with AIM and Third Eye Blind CDs, the film succeeds at honing in on a very specific era. Despite this immersion, this film never isolates itself from the audience, effectively portraying the fearful and solitary experience of attending a brand new school with almost no familiar faces. 

The family dynamics in the film make for some of the most hilarious and relatable moments. “Mustache” beautifully portrays the unwavering — and in Ilyas’ case, sometimes unspoken — love shared between immigrant parents and their children. Even if viewers aren’t the children of immigrants, they will relate to Ilyas’ relationship with his parents, especially in one scene where his father drives around town looking for Ilyas after he briefly runs away from home. 

The most impactful moment of the film comes at the very end when Ilyas enlists his younger brother’s help to perform an interpretive dance that portrays Ilyas finally accepting his mustache. This part of the movie makes for an emotional watch considering the symbolism of the mustache throughout the film. Audiences will be happy to see the main character finally accepting himself and nurturing his newly-found passion. 

“Mustache” makes for an outstanding directorial feature debut from Imran Khan, which hugely benefits from Verma’s charming and endearing performance. Easily relatable, laugh-out-loud funny and downright delightful, “Mustache” solidifies itself as one of the best films in the SXSW 2023 lineup.

4 unshavable mustaches out of 5