HBO Max has another hit on its hands — and it’s something that could very easily never have seen the light of day.
The Last Movie Stars, a docuseries directed by Ethan Hawke, reveals the untold story of Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward’s lives and relationships in their own words, delivered by others.
The premise, as revealed in the trailer below, is that Newman got his screenwriter friend Stewart Stern to record over 100 interviews with friends and family — “stuff they would never say if they weren’t with friends” — with a view to writing a memoir. Evidently Newman had a change of heart as he destroyed the tapes — but not before they were transcribed.
These transcriptions were delivered to Hawke by one of Newman’s children and, with the help of actors including Laura Linney, George Clooney and Sally Field, he set about turning the recordings “into a kind of play with voices.” Fourteen years after Newman’s death, we finally get an insight into what he might have written.
The project has been a clear hit with critics. It’s currently got a 100% fresh score on Rotten Tomatoes (opens in new tab), with universal praise from the 21 critics quoted.
The gamble of having instantly recognizable Hollywood voices playing the ‘last’ stars is one that ultimately pays off in the critics’ eyes. “The series is a visual feast,” writes Mark Feeney of The Boston Globe (opens in new tab), highlighting the wealth of clips, archive footage, photos and hundreds of photos. “But its heart is Stern’s interviews, and Hawke came up with a terrific way to present them.”
Joel Keller at Decider (opens in new tab) agrees. “Despite the self-indulgent aspects of The Last Movie Stars, Ethan Hawke has created a fascinating docuseries about one of the biggest Hollywood power couples ever, as well as the issues that defined their marriage,” he writes.
Indeed, this look behind the curtain seems to reveal the real people behind the giants of a bygone age of cinema. “Instead of untouchable stars, the show reframes Woodward and Newman as utterly relatable people who weather many of the trials of young couples growing up in the 1950s and 60s and manage to keep their relationship strong,” writes Aaron Barnhart at Primetimer (opens in new tab).
But it’s also undoubtedly one for movie nerds. “This is a terrific history; it is an absolute feast of film clips, full of things I didn't know, full of things a lot of people probably don't know,” writes Linda Holmes in her glowing NPR (opens in new tab) review.
At the time of writing, there are only four audience reviews offering public opinion, but each one echoes the critical sentiment with a five-star rating. This certainly seems like one to watch if you’ve got an HBO Max subscription and even a passing interest in Hollywood history. And it's a another reminder why HBO Max is one of the best streaming services.
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