The word “Intimate” is often used when describing celebrity documentaries, but it certainly applies to “Pamela, a Love Story,” which at one point shows Pamela Anderson lounging in her bathtub while excerpts from her diaries are read as voice-over. The result is a humanizing look at a woman that is often reduced to a cartoon caricature, while occasionally feeling too conspicuously 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 only to her journals, but also to a collection of home movies, including, yes, the one stolen and released for the world to see, of Anderson having sex with her then-husband, drummer Tommy Lee. .
Anderson, now 55, speaks at length about that interlude, the invasiveness of displaying and exploiting private material in such a way, and what he clearly sees as a reopening of those wounds with the Hulu limited series. “Pam and Tommy” that dramatized those events.
Anderson’s account actually does little to detract from that Emmy-nominated production, which was quite sympathetic in portraying the pain she felt and the way she was treated by the media. In fact, the clips featured here from late-night comics capitalizing on Anderson as a running gag, or interviewers Matt Lauer and Larry King asking her about her boobs, do as much to support Hulu’s version as to undermine it.
“Pamela” makes it clear that Anderson is letting her guard down early on, as she appears makeup-free, hanging out in the small British Columbia town where she grew up, before being discovered at a soccer game by appearing on camera at the bookmark) launched her as a model and in the pages of Playboy.
According to Anderson’s account, during that time she recovered her sexuality, having suffered abuse on more than one occasion as a child.
International stardom followed in “Baywatch,” and it’s fun to hear Anderson recall not only all the celebrities she dated during that period, but also all the footage from “Running on the Beach in Slow Motion.” (No mention of “Home Improvement” or Anderson’s recent allegations in his memoirs of being exhibited by its star, Tim Allen, which the comic has denied).
The indignities of that “blonde bombshell” status are very well documented here. The same goes for paparazzi intrusions, which came after her especially after the whirlwind romance with Lee.
The feeding frenzy surrounding the sex tape “solidified the caricature image” of her, Anderson recalls, adding, “I knew at that moment my career was over.”
While “Pamela” handles all of that quite well, much of the rest plays like Hallmark Card’s version of Anderson’s story, from the cloying, cloying music to the interviews with her sons, whose protectiveness of their mother is admirable but not especially illuminating.
The latter part of the documentary also feels a bit scattered, venturing into areas like Anderson’s. animal rights activism through PETA, his defending WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange and finally she Broadway debut in “Chicago.”
At its best, “Pamela, a Love Story” strips away what looks in retrospect like misogynistic media coverage (obsessed with her looks and relationships) to consider the person behind it all, while coming across as a bit too much. determined and flexible in her goal of helping Anderson assert ownership over her narrative.
In those moments, “Pamela” could work as a love story, but it does a little less well as a documentary.
“Pamela, a love story” premieres January 31 on Netflix.
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