The word “intimate” is frequently used to describe celebrity documentaries, but it certainly applies to “Pamela, A Love Story,” which at one point shows Pamela Anderson lounging in the tub while parts of his diaries are read in voiceover. The result is a humanizing look at a woman often reduced to a cartoon caricature, while at times feeling all too visibly like a licensed product.
Produced by, among others, Anderson’s son, Brandon Thomas Lee, director Ryan White (whose biographical documentaries include “Ask Dr. Ruth” and “Serena”) had access not just to his diaries, but to a collection of home movies — including, yes, the one stolen and posted for the world to see, of Anderson having sex with her then-husband, drummer Tommy Lee.
Anderson, now 55, speaks at length about this interlude, the invasiveness of having private material shown and exploited in this way, and what she clearly sees as a reopening of those wounds with Hulu’s limited series. “Pam & Tommy”, which dramatized these events. .
Anderson’s story does nothing to detract from this Emmy-nominated production, which was sympathetic enough to portray the hurt she felt and the way the media treated her. Indeed, the clips shown here of late-night comics taking advantage of Anderson as a punchline, or interviewers Matt Lauer and Larry King asking her about her breasts, do as much to endorse the Hulu version as to undermine it.
“Pamela” makes it clear that Anderson is letting her guard down from the get-go, as she appears makeup-free, hanging out in the small town in British Columbia where she grew up, before being discovered at a football game ( fans “oohed” when she appeared on the dash cam) launched her as a model and into the pages of Playboy.
As Anderson recounts, during this time she reclaimed her sexuality, having been abused on more than one occasion as a child.
International stardom on “Baywatch” followed, and it’s fun to hear Anderson reminisce about not only all the celebrities she dated during that time, but all the “Running on the Beach in Slow Motion” imagery. (There’s no mention of “Home Improvement” or Anderson’s recent allegations in his memoir of being flashed by its star, Tim Allen, which the comic has denied.)
The indignities of this “blonde bombshell” status are well documented here. Ditto for the intrusions of the paparazzi, who harassed her especially after the whirlwind romance with Lee.
The binge surrounding the sex tape “solidified the cartoon image” of her, Anderson recalled, adding, “I knew at that point my career was over.”
While “Pamela” handles it all pretty well, too much of the rest plays like the Hallmark Card version of Anderson’s story, from the sickening, sugary music to the talks with her sons, whose protectiveness of their mother is admirable but not particularly illuminating.
The latter part of the documentary also seems a bit scattered, venturing into areas such as Anderson’s animal rights activism via PETA, his advocacy for WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange and, finally, his Broadway debut. in “Chicago”.
At its best, “Pamela, A Love Story” strips away what, in hindsight, looks like misogynistic media coverage – obsessed with her appearance and relationships – to consider the person behind it all, while revealing herself a bit too determined and flexible in an effort to help Anderson own her story.
At times like these, “Pamela” might work as a love story, but it does a little less well as a documentary.
“Pamela, a love story” will be released on January 31 on Netflix.