Felix Van Groeningen’s Often Very Funny The Misfortunates


Beer and sausage and mullets and mayhem are the stuff of a young Belgian teen’s upbringing in Felix Van Groeningen’s earthy adaptation of Dimitri Verhulst’s popular novel. Thirteen-year-old Gunther Stobbe (Kenneth Vanbaeden) plays little brother to four rowdy strapping Stobbes—his hooting dad (Koen de Graeve) and three overgrown uncles—all living under sharp-eyed grandma’s small-town roof in a state of arrested (or perfected) boozing-louthood. Through the eyes of Gunther—in the ’80s and in flash-forwards, grown, an author, and annoyed about his moon-faced pregnant girlfriend—we chortle at their chest-beating, step aside to make room for their righteous brawls, and listen to them sing drinking songs about pussy. Acerbic and grim-faced as an adult (played by Valentijn Dhaenens), Gunther joins the grand tradition of writers recalling a house-bursting-with-knockabout family. His, and Van Groeningen’s, bearhug of these men is ostentatiously unembarrassed. Though Van Groeningen knows where to stick the camera in a belchy testosterone-filled room, the back-and-forth between prideful independence and oblivion can get a little practiced, and is not helped by a final lugubrious turn, a strange daintiness at key points, and blasts of repurposed mood music. But The Misfortunates is often very funny, and the rolling remember-when vignettes trump the typical low-country wild-hairy-man sideshows.