Mollie Mulvey was set to graduate from SMU in the spring of 2020 before heading to Chicago to study with the famed Second City comedy troupe—and hopefully launch a filmmaking career.
Of course, the pandemic changed that. Mulvey and her classmates were sent home two months before graduation, and she retreated to her family’s ranch in the Texas Hill Country, uncertain of her creative future. So she looked instead to her past. The Better Part, a low-budget feature drama about grief and relationships, stemmed from an 18-minute undergraduate short film she made two years earlier.
“It was pretty well received, but people told me it was a feature-length story. It needed more time to develop the relationships,” Mulvey said. “That was always in the back of my mind for something to do way in the future.”
Suddenly, the future became the present for Mulvey, who fleshed out her original script and pitched some of her friends and classmates “while waiting for the world to get back to normal.” Some declined, but enough saw her vision to compile a cast and crew.
“They were itching to get out of their houses, so they were really eager to work on it,” said Mulvey, who is from the Austin area. “If we had known the last time we worked together would really be the last time we worked together, we would have appreciated it a lot more.”
Mulvey kept the logistics simple enough, using the ranch as a single setting, and ran a crowdfunding campaign to get things rolling.
“It was really crazy and fun. All of us in the back of our minds didn’t know if it would turn out to be anything,” she said. “I didn’t know if it would come to fruition, but I had nothing to lose.”
The finished film, which was shot over 21 days beginning in December 2020, will screen this weekend as part of the Lone Star Film Festival in Fort Worth.
The story — about a group of estranged high school classmates who gather to mourn the death of a popular teacher while resolving issues from their past — is based in part on personal experiences.
While Mulvey was at SMU, a friend from high school committed suicide. They had drifted apart but Mulvey didn’t know about her pain. She decided to drive home and go to the funeral, where she realized that her ex-boyfriend was sitting in the row in front of her. Mulvey tried to avoid the awkward interaction. But when that didn’t work, she reluctantly decided to go to breakfast with him the next morning.
“We just talked about our friend and mutually grieved. I was so pleasantly surprised. Any kind of tension we had was gone. I walked out and had gotten the closure I needed,” she said. “Something about that connection resolved any underlying issues.”
Mulvey admits The Better Part would have never been made if it weren’t for the pandemic and related lockdowns.
“We were all planning on moving and leaving and doing our own things. I didn’t know when I would get a chance to direct again,” she said. “The pandemic was horrible, but I’m a believer that we can make something good out of almost anything if we really try. That’s the artist mentality in me.
“This isn’t my magnum opus, but I want it to show how much potential we have and ambition we have. I’ve learned so much and grown so much.”