The Last Movie Stars, Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward

Joanne Woodward and Paul Newman

The Last Movie Stars from director Ethan Hawke is a love letter to two Hollywood icons, Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward. But it’s more than an exploration of this famous couple and their lives together. It’s a look at Hollywood history for the last 60 or 70 years, crammed with stars from both then and now.

The fastest way to explain this pandemic production of The Last Movie Stars is to show you the trailer.

The unusual and fascinating result of Ethan Hawke’s efforts to make a documentary about his idols is a six part series on HBO Max.

It’s full of movie clips, personal photographs, dramatic readings, archival interviews, and people reminiscing on Zoom about these two iconic stars.

A zoom grid of several actors who participated in The Last Movie Stars

When transcripts of Paul’s words need reading, George Clooney does the voice. Laura Linney does the same for Joanne. The documentary includes people being themselves like Martin Scorsese and Sally Field. There are actors like Zoe Kazan, Alessandro Nivola, and Karen Allen voicing characters in the lives of Paul and Joanne. Also included are recordings of people like Gore Vidal and Sydney Pollack. All this voice work is overlaid on movie scenes or material from the lives of the two stars.

The duo made 16 films together, which provides plenty of fodder and clips to illustrate quotes and comments about their lives.

An old photo of Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward getting married

The doc tells about the couple’s early life, their troubled marriage, Paul’s drinking, Joanne’s Alzheimers. Between 3 kids from Paul’s first marriage and 3 with Joanne they had six children. Several of them spoke in the documentary.

It’s an unusual way to tell a story, but it works. As a person who lived through the same period as Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward and saw most of their work when it first released, it was a nostalgic trip through my own life at the movies. It was fun spotting faces – oh, look, it’s Jimmy Dean, or Sal Mineo, or Patricia Neal. If you love movies, you’ll probably enjoy this series.

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