A pregnant Dutchwoman is caught between two very different brothers in “The Family Way,” another well-acted, glossy mainstream romantic comedy from helmer Joram Lursen, thesp-scribe Kim van Kooten and star Carice van Houten, after 2007’s whammo B.O. hit “Love Is All.” Their new collaboration is less of an out-and-out ensembler than its (otherwise unrelated) predecessor, though a massive 132-minute running time still allows for too many cliche-driven subplots to rear their boring heads. Four hundred thousand admissions in three weeks would be impressive for any Dutch pic, but it’s still a long way from “Love’s” 1.3 million final tally.
The story’s central intrigue involves Winnie de Roover (van Houten), a therapist and bestselling self-help author who wants to become a mother. Hubby Rutmer de Roover (Thijs Romer), a slick and somewhat dandy music producer, is onboard with the idea, but he’s infertile.
This leads to the search for a suitable sperm donor, a job that Rutmer’s loath to give to an unknown. With the help of his rather too-accommodating physician (Diederik Ebbinge, unhappily stuck in the pic’s most contrived subplot), Rutmer decides to recruit his brother, Charlie (Benja Bruijning), a handsome sous chef/sex god, who agrees to give his sibling a hand. But everything has to happen in secret, because Winnie thinks Charlie is the sort of irresponsible type who doesn’t deserve to be called a man.
The setup is pure romantic comedy, and scribe van Kooten handles the main storyline perfectly well, throwing in the expected complications and some nice zingers, and ensuring events remain grounded in a recognizable emotional reality. (Physical reality is another story, as these particularly well-off thirtysomethings are the Low Countries equivalent of the 1%, living in huge mansions and driving around in possibly even bigger cars.)
But Winnie’s story is but one of several. There’s the marriage crisis of the senior de Roovers (Martine Bijl and Kees Hulst), who are approaching their 40th wedding anniversary but decide to take some time off from each other. Then there’s Rutmer’s zookeeper brother-in-law (Jacob Derwig, touching), who still isn’t over the death of his wife, and who doesn’t dare ask out the nice pancake-restaurant lady (Tsjitske Reidinga). To further pad out the running time, a handful of Winnie’s sad-sack patients have crises of their own.
Unlike “Love Is All,” which was blatantly modeled on “Love Actually,” “Family” tries to have it both ways. Lursen and Van Kooten offer auds a perfectly satisfactory 90-minute romantic comedy populated with almost fully rounded characters, but surround it with lots of “Actually”-style subplots that don’t have any room to develop, resulting in an overlong film in which the superficial characters and cliched situations get in the way of the good stuff.
With her perfect comic timing, van Houten again proves she’s equally adept at comedy and drama; she’s ably supported by relative newcomer Bruijning, who shares with her an ability to get auds on their side no matter what. Comedienne Bijl, a rarity on Dutch screens lately, is a standout in an underdeveloped role as the grieving materfamilias who simply wants to be noticed; Romer’s much less restrained, and isn’t helped by a detour to New York that’s incongruous in more ways than one.
Except for the score, all the main technical credits are handled by the same team as “Love Is All,” ensuring the same plush patina as the previous pic.