Eat Pray Love, actually skip the pray

Looks like someone lapsed into reporter-crush-mode over a meal with Hollywood’s latest rock star director. Ryan Murphy is kind of a big deal, according to Brooks Barnes, who wrote a glowing profile for The New York Times on Eat Pray Love‘s director.

Mr. Murphy is nothing if not seductive. Self-assured to the point of cockiness, a wicked sense of humor, scary-ambitious yet charmingly eager to please, fashion-forward: it’s an intoxicating brew. Not to mention the literal light-headedness you feel standing near him. This is not a man who is bashful about his Yves Saint Laurent cologne.

In a piece titled “Start Poor, Spread ‘Glee,’ Then Try ‘Eat Pray Love’,” a profile looks at the man behind the wildly popular TV show Glee .

Mr. Murphy, who followed up “Nip/Tuck” with “Glee,” the smash Fox musical about a high school choir, has become one of the most sought-after talents in Hollywood. His name is swirling as a candidate to direct a big-screen version of “Wicked” for Universal Pictures. Sony Pictures Entertainment, which will release “Eat Pray Love” (without commas) on Friday, just paid him $2.5 million to write a romantic comedy–with Ms. Roberts–and another $2.5 million to direct it.

The profile offers a brief timeline of childhood and work-related events, giving anecdotes here and there to try to paint a picture of what makes the director tick.

The twist in all this identity fascination is that Mr. Murphy has always been very clear about who he is. When he announced he was gay at the age of 15–and that he was dating a 22-year-old–his parents took him to a therapist who, after two sessions, declared that yes, it was true, and that they could either accept it or not.

What suspiciously missing is anything substantive on religion, even though it comes up in his work and seems like it played a role in his upbringing.

Mr. Murphy also had to square who he was with the family’s strict Catholic values. His parents were so religious that nuns would sometimes vacation with them. He remembers sitting next to a nun in the back seat of the family Pinto and belting out “Lady Marmalade.”

“I remember the nun smiling,” Mr. Murphy said. “Parents? Not so pleased.”

That’s all we get about Murphy’s past or present relationship with religion. The weird nun anecdote does nothing to help us understand how he reconciled his family’s religious background with his own beliefs or unbeliefs. Was he/is he religious? If so, how does that fit with his sexual identity?

Murphy’s religious beliefs (or lack thereof, perhaps) seem especially pertinent given his new movie Eat Pray Love. Since he is condensing Elizabeth Gilbert’s book, it will be interesting to see how much of the movie is devoted to Gilbert’s spiritual explorations. In other words, how central does he see the “Pray” part of the book?

The reporter shares an anecdote from Murphy’s childhood where his father received a phone call where someone used a three-letter slur about his son. A version of the anecdote appears in one of the episodes in Glee. “To be an artist for me is to get to express what I wish would have happened, what I wish my father had said,” Murphy told the Times.

Murphy takes stereotypes to the extreme in Glee , so it will be interesting to see how he develops his newest character.

“I’m adding a Christian character,” he says. “We’ve taken a couple jabs at the right wing this year, so what I want to do with this character is have someone who Christian kids and parents can recognize and say, ‘Oh, look—I’m represented there, too!’ If we’re trying to form a world of inclusiveness, we’ve got to include that point of view as well.”

Obviously religion leaks into Murphy’s work, but it’s unclear whether where his own background and views come into play. “I read the book after the worst breakup of my life, and I reacted strongly to the theme of reinvention,” he said to the Times. “I’m really proud of the result. I think a lot of people are going to identify with this movie for multiple reasons.” Were there any influences from his own life that he is expressing in the new movie?

From the video interview posted above, it looks like Murphy expects viewers to look within for personal reconciliation rather than to look for external influences. How do Gilbert’s external religious practices in India play into that?

Unfortunately, this gushing profile does nothing to help us understand anything deeper about Murphy’s personal beliefs, motivations, or influences. When his next movie jumps off of a book that has strong religious themes, you would think religion would get more than a brief mention.

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  • MattK

    Am I the only one who wonders if the reporter asked “Why didn’t your parents call the police when they found out the man you were going out with was 22?”

  • Jeff H

    @Matt K – Yes, I wondered the same.

    But I also wondered why it is naturally assumed here that everything else, religion included, must “square itself” around Mr. Murphy’s homosexuality. As in other similar stories, this seems to be the one thing that simply cannot change–even in the life of someone who is enjoying making a movie of a book in which “the theme of reinvention” resonated with him. What jumps out as the inability to “get religion” in this and many other pieces is that one’s sexual orientation is allowed to be absolute, while his or her religion is not.

  • Suzanne

    @Jeff H

    So what, exactly, would you have the reporter do?

    “So, Ryan, this movie is all about reinvention… ever thought of reinventing yourself as straight?”

  • Passing By

    Of course, such a question is unimaginable in today’s environment. Consider this construction:

    to square

    a.) who he was


    b.) the family’s strict Catholic values.

    Of course, a and b aren’t parallels, but more telling is the absolutism of the “who he was”, since we’ve already been told that Murphy is “clear about who he is”. There is no arguing with that, now is there? No way to have a different thought on the subject: who I think I am is who I really am.

    That’s the infallible dogma here.

  • Julia

    Let’s see. Mr. Murphy is now 44 yrs old. If he was vacationing with a nun sitting next to him when he was, say, 14 years old, that would be 1980.

    In 1980 my sons had a religion teacher/priest at their Catholic high school who rode a motorcycle and brought his girlfriend to their keg parties. A lay religion teacher was showing them films of his wife giving birth in all its gory details.

    No wonder the nun was groovy with Lady Marmalade and the parents not so much. It was a crazy time for Catholics. The nuns and priests became way more modern and hip than the kids and their parents.

    And I’m guessing the nun was a relative. Nuns (or more properly sisters) usually didn’t go on trips with people who weren’t relatives – even during that era.

  • Michael Pettinger

    @ Jeff H — I agree that we should question the assumption that religious identity is more flexible than sexual orientation/identity (which, btw Sarah, are not the same thing), but is that issue not addressed when the media covers ex-gays and Christian men who struggle with same-sex attractions? And is it pertinent to this story?

    (And as an aside to journalists — if there has not been as much coverage of them as some would like to see, could it be that an element of shame, particularly in the latter group, hinders getting at the stories such men might want to tell?)

    @ Passing By — I am not exactly sure that I understand your point. Are you suggesting that it was the task of this journalist to tell Mr. Murphy who he really is? Or to ask for the opinion of someone else?

    @ Sarah — Knowing something about Mr. Murphy’s Catholic background does help me understand something about the way religion “leaks” into “Glee.” I’m a fan of the show, but occasionally some of the darts it throws at Catholicism hit a little too close to the bone for my comfort. On the surface they smacked of secularism, but now I see them as expressing of anger of a gay-man raised in a strict Catholic home.

    Others might not see the difference between those two points of view, but personally I’m a lot more sympathetic to him now.

  • Maureen

    Obviously not all that strict. If I’d been dating a 22 year old man when I was 15, I would have been ungrounded…oh, about ten years from now, when I turn 50. I’m fairly sure that if my brothers had pulled the Lady Marmalade stunt, Dad would have been stopping the car, pulling them out, and only waited for them two or three miles down the road. Bars of soap would probably have been introduced to mouths, as well.

    So yeah, tell me again about how strict his parents were.

  • Passing By

    Michael Pettinger:

    My point was that the question posed by Suzanne is un-askable – unthinkable – in the world of this article. Of course, the way she phrased it is silly, but the concept is inherently interesting.