Home Americanism Mr. Allen’s Flab-o-phobia

Mr. Allen’s Flab-o-phobia

Superficially speaking, Mr. Woody Allen’s latest film is more of the same. It is an integral part of his oeuvre. If Whatever Works portrays New York outings, Midnight in Paris portrays Paris.

Midnight in Paris is however different from the rest because it gives voice to Mr. Allen’s malaise de début de siècle.  It is also his most motivational movie to date: by exposing his malaise, Mr. Allen teaches us how to embrace ours.  It is also most unassumingly patriotic. The subversive Mr. Allen makes this otherwise passing malaise into an American situation, and then instead of painting it into a grandiose Marianne, he minimizes it into a trifling condition played distractedly by Mr. Owen Wilson. This is no little feat, because our nation does display a generalized complacence with everything. It goes from our national lack of interest in the food we swallow, the political imbeciles we enable to govern us, to the news we choose as bedtime stories. Midnight in Paris does not moralize us for our apathetic gigantism, as I expected. Au contraire, it tickles its result, its paralyzing flab, and minimizes it to insignificant chic.

Like most people alive today, I am having problems staying fit: physically, intellectually or just all around. That Monday evening when I watched the movie, I found out what I had long suspected: fitness is not something I can reckon with on my own. My problems are part of this end-of-last-century-and-slow-beginning-of-the-new-century malaise.

Those 94 delightful minutes when I watched Mr. Allen’s metamorphosis[1] from a neurotic very fit person into a person content with his past neurosis motivated my own lackadaisical search for my inner fit person. For a split moment I remembered Mr. Allen’s flab-o-phobia. Flab-o-phobia is a term of art, which Woody Allen made up in a 1970s conversation with Dick Cavett. Woody was explaining that his only real phobia was not his fear of death, but what he identified as flab-o-phobia, fear of (becoming) fat. Watching that interview, I laughed at the image of the petite Woody Allen being swallowed by Stay Puft Marshmallow Man-eating Flab.

But Midnight in Paris quenched my temporary anxiety. The loveable Owen Wilson proved that flab is a state of mind as much as a state of one’s body. Only, when it reaches one’s mind, there are no dietary cures. And that is just fine. Fat is an American state of physical and mental being, and in Midnight in Paris the once skinny and subversive Mr. Allen[2] makes it enjoyable, for all who are only flab but not the most obese[3] around.

The young crowed surrounding me loved the message which, I cannot deny, comes as solid entertainment. One more thing about this movie: the current Mme Sarkozy, First Lady of this Fifth French Republic, has a few lines and she’s as lovely as the previous Mme Sarkozy was not (or vice-versa).


[1] I borrowed the usage of this term from F. Kafka, the author whose work Mr. Allen read or read about decades ago.

[2] Though The Front was not his movie, but Martin Ritt’s, I have problems separating Woody Allen from Howard Prince’s political views.

From The Front (1976)

Howard Prince: Where are you from?

Florence Barrett: Connecticut.

Howard Prince: That’s very ritzy.

Florence Barrett: It’s very proper anyway. I was very well bred – the kind of family where the biggest sin was to raise your voice.

Howard Prince: Oh yeah? In my family the biggest sin was to pay retail.

[3] Obese can be replaced with boring, imbecile, or anything else it bothers you.


  1. Woody Allen!! I still love the guy. Have you seen his new movie shot in Rome? Write something about that…

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