Mijke de Jong's Stages declares its allegiance to the psychodramas of John Cassavetes and Woody Allen in its first minute, as rumbly jazz music plays over a pitch-black screen. For the next hour-plus, de Jong alternates between closely shot, frequently volatile conversations between Elsie de Brauw and Marcel Musters—two recent divorcés still sorting through their old business—and quiet scenes of the couple's teenage son Stijn Koomen reacting to his parents' breakup by behaving erratically. Koomen breaks into other people's apartments and examines their refrigerators, their closets, and their bathrooms, imagining what it would be like to be someone else. Meanwhile, de Brauw and Musters meet in restaurants to talk about Koomen, and to use their competing opinions on how to handle the situation as a way to keep picking at and flirting with each other.
Stages is short for a feature film, and because it's not even slightly inscrutable, it frequently comes off as artless. Every scene forwards more or less the same idea: Koomen is driving his parents to distraction, to the point that they can't even listen to other people talk about their kids without starting to break down. De Jong takes pains to establish her two main characters as self-absorbed, somewhat pretentious upper-class professionals, who take Koomen's difficulties as a personal affront as much as a cause for worry. So Stages becomes an indictment of their fatuousness, mitigated by indications that maybe they can change.
Like Cassavetes and Allen, de Jong leans hard on her actors to provide the nuance absent from the triple-underlined dialogue, and de Brauw and Musters are definitely up to the task. De Brauw in particular conveys the whole story of her failed marriage in the way she winces at Musters' dinner order. But typical of Stages' approach, what seems fresh at first quickly becomes overly familiar. One expressively acted, intimately photographed scene may feel like a tour de force. Eight is overkill.