The term “Intimate” is often used to describe celebrity documentaries, but it definitely fits “Pamela, a love tale,” which features Pamela Anderson relaxing in the bathtub as audio narration from her journals is played at various points. As a consequence, a woman who is frequently reduced to a cartoon caricature is given a humanizing perspective, yet occasionally it feels too obviously like a licensed product.
Director Ryan White (whose biographical films include “Ask Dr. Ruth” and “Serena”) got access to Pamela’s journals as well as a collection of home movies, including the one that was stolen and publicly shared showing Pamela with her ex-husband in an inappropriate content, drummer Tommy Lee.
Anderson, now 55, discusses the invasiveness of having private material displayed and used in that manner, as well as what she obviously perceives as a reopening of old wounds with Hulu’s short series “Pam & Tommy,” which dramatized similar events.
Anderson’s testimony, in fact, offers little to detract from that Emmy-nominated production, which was fairly empathetic in depicting her pain and the way the media handled her. Indeed, the video shown here of late-night comics using Anderson as a punchline, or interviewers Matt Lauer and Larry King questioning her about her breasts, serve to both support and undercut the Hulu version.
Anderson appears makeup-free in “Pamela,” hanging out in the small British Columbia town where she grew up, before being found during a football game (fans “oohed” when she appeared on the scoreboard camera), which propelled her as a model and into the pages of Playboy. Anderson claims that at that period she rediscovered her sexuality after being abused as a youngster on several occasions.
Anderson rose to international fame on “Baywatch,” and it’s hilarious to hear her remember not just about all the celebs she dated during that time, but also about the entire “Running on the beach in slow motion” picture. (There is no mention of “Home Improvement” or Anderson’s recent charges in her memoir of being flashed by the show’s star, Tim Allen, which the comedian has denied.)
The humiliations of being a “blonde bombshell” are well chronicled here. The cameras followed her everywhere, especially following her brief affair with Lee. Anderson describes how the sex tape “solidified the cartoon picture” of her, adding, “I knew at that moment my career was done.”
While “Pamela” does a good job of handling all of that, too much of the rest of the film feels like a Hallmark Card version of Anderson’s story, from the cloying, saccharine music to the interviews with her sons, whose protectiveness toward their mother is admirable but not particularly enlightening.
The documentary’s conclusion is equally disjointed, delving into Anderson’s animal-rights work through PETA, her support for Wikileaks founder Julian Assange, and, eventually, her Broadway debut in “Chicago.”
At its finest, “Pamela, a love tale” peels apart what appears to be sexist media coverage – concerned with her appearances and relationships – to explore the person behind all of that, while proving a touch too determined and pliable in its purpose of assisting Anderson in asserting control over her narrative.
When that happens, “Pamela” could work as a love tale, but as a documentary, it does a bit less well.
Netflix will be releasing “Pamela, a Love Story” on January 31.