Mustache is an achingly beautiful, laugh-out-loud comedy about family and self-acceptance. Stories based on real life can carry an extra layer of heart and authenticity. So it is with this story. The story is brilliantly balanced, telling the story of an awkward teenager while delving deep into the importance of radical self-acceptance. While this story may be set in a previous era, there’s a timeless message that so many need more than ever.
Mustache so effectively captures the teenage experience. Ilyas (Atharv Verma) is equally awkward and adorable. His quest to find his place within his family and community is a relatable one. Ultimately, he just wants to be heard by those he loves. He evidently has so much love to give. Anyone who ever grew up with an excess of creative energy will see themselves in this character. His character feels ready to burst at any moment. He needs to find somewhere to expend this energy.
There is also an authenticity in watching Ilyas wrestle with his religious beliefs to distil what his values actually are. The fact that he stays true to his faith even when he wants to appear openly rebellious is a sign that this is a thoughtful young man who genuinely wants to do the right thing. Director Imran Khan makes a wise choice in allowing such a young actor playing a young character to make these bold choices and ask these existential questions.
The religious element of this story just makes Mustache that much deeper. While the authenticity of this representation must be strictly left to those within the community, more broadly, this is a perfect example of how to incorporate religion into a coming-of-age story. Not all stories involving all people within religious communities need to centre voices that only want to escape. It’s a much more challenging but much deeper story to show someone finding their place within such a community while remaining true to themselves.
Mustache provides the opportunity to reflect on ludicrous adults can hold teenagers to. These expectations don’t allow children to grow and learn from their mistakes. By showing an older teenager as the golden child of the community, it’s clear that Ilyas will always have an uphill battle by focusing on these external arbitrary standards. There’s a deep cruelty in holding up this golden child, who himself is wildly imperfect, as the standard everyone else has to meet. Unfortunately, this is an all-too-real situation that translates perfectly to the screen.
Hameed’s (Rizwan Manji) journey throughout this story is what draws everything together. There is never any doubt that he loves his children and his family immensely. However, by struggling himself, it’s hard for him to be there emotionally for his children in particular. He’s imperfect, but he’s obviously doing the best he can with the tools he has at this time. Underneath the invalidation and quiet cruelty of this character is a profound appreciation for his humanity.
Mustache is a beautiful coming-of-age story of self-love and friendship. The run time may be all too short. However, not a moment is wasted in developing these characters. Everyone portrayed here is at a crossroads. Their journeys are deeply meaningful, and their stories are crafted with so much empathy. This family is absolutely worth revisiting in some capacity. Hopefully, this movie is also a sign of what is to come from these artists who have bright futures ahead of them.
Mustache premiered at the 2023 SXSW Film and TV Festival.