Though still (relatively) early in his feature filmmaking career, the filmography of Mike Mills has come to exemplify a fascinating exception to some commonly held truisms about an artist's trajectory.
Like novelists, most directors tend to start their careers with an autobiographical work that is either about their childhood or their current romantic situation. Even the filmmakers who head straight into genre will undoubtedly still include a protagonist to parrot whatever he or she thinks about life, the universe and everything. Then, if that first film is good enough to be successful, it becomes imperative that the filmmaker does something different on their next go around. They have to turn their gaze outward at the wider world. Unless your name is Mike Mills.
With each successive film, Mills has opted to get more personal and to look deeper inward. Though he did not write the novel on which Thumbsucker was based, he clearly felt a kinship with its infantilized protagonist. As a follow-up, Mills dropped the surrogacy of adaptation and instead chose to make a film about his father's late in life coming out and the impact that has had on his relationships with other humans. For 20th Century Women, he's gone even further into the past to examine his relationship with his mother and the other women who shaped him.
Though each film is even more autobiographical than the last, rather than coming off as naval-gazey, the overwhelming feeling imparted by these films is one of intimacy. The more specific he gets about the granular details of these lives that are under examination, the more universal the overall work becomes. We might not be able to relate to the specifics of the narrative, location, time period, song choices, etc., yet I'm certain that somewhere in this film's lazy rhythms you will find something to love. Who doesn't love a great Annette Bening performance?