‘Pamela: A Love Story’ makes an attempt at a documentary

Written By Rachel Ross, Co-Features/A&E Editor

When “Pam and Tommy,” a narrative show about the theft and mass production of Pamela Anderson and Tommy Lee’s sex tape premiered on Hulu last year, I tried to watch it. I only made it about two episodes in before deciding it wasn’t for me.

Beyond just not liking it, I thought it was questionable that they made it without the couple’s consent; that made the show feel like a bit of an oxymoron, attempting to highlight the uncontrollable nature of what happened and the stress and anxiety caused as a result, by creating another uncontrollable situation where Anderson and Lee had no say. At that point, that’s not informing people or giving the victim a voice, it’s just exploiting them all over again.

So when I heard Pamela Anderson was making a documentary telling her story in her own words, I was interested in checking it out. And I’m glad I did, because Netflix’s “Pamela: A Love Story” is not only a classy, respectable response to “Pam and Tommy,” but stands entirely on its own as a solid documentary about Anderson’s life and rise to fame.

The documentary sees Anderson recounting and reflecting on her life experiences from childhood to the present day. I appreciate that there was a good blend between the history lesson side and the retrospective reflection side; it felt like not only did Anderson want to get the facts out straight, but also reflect on them and how they’ve affected her.

There was heavy utilization of old tapes and diary entries, which both felt like effective touches to illustrate a given time period in Anderson’s life, especially the mindset she was in during it. I especially appreciated the diary entries; they conveyed the best sense of Anderson’s thoughts and feelings about the things going on around her throughout her life.

Interviews with Anderson and her children provided the reflection side of things. Anderson reviews her life experiences with earnest and a playful, raw nature; she isn’t afraid to poke fun at herself and some of the more extraordinary elements of her life, such as her numerous divorces and her status as a sex symbol of the 90s, while also providing thoughtful commentary on how various hardships affected her.

Brandon and Dylan Lee, her children, reflected not only on the effects they’d seen of various experiences on their mother, but also explored how some of those experiences affected them and their lives. However, these comments were pretty few and far between; they obviously wanted to address it without stirring too much controversy or bad press.

I noticed this once or twice during the documentary; it was clear there were certain things Anderson felt as though she needed to address, but she did so very briefly, touching on her angle before quickly moving to something else. This was most apparent during a very short segment addressing her relationship with Julian Assange, the founder of WikiLeaks, who was incarcerated in 2010 for publishing classified government documents. Anderson briefly addressed her efforts to fight for Assange, before moving on to a different topic. It felt very oddly placed; it definitely stood out to me as being sort of an odd inclusion, almost like she was trying to get ahead of something before people questioned her about it.

I pretty much just chalk this and other instances like it throughout the documentary up to being natural bias; it’s inevitable with something like this. The whole point is for Anderson to deliver her side of her story; there’s no question there’s going to be bias in that. In this particular instance, it just felt a bit more disingenuous or narrow than the majority of the documentary.

For the most part, I commend the documentary, and Anderson in turn, for what it attempts to do. While she might make a disagreeable comment or two about “Pam and Tommy” and her thoughts on it’s creation, for the most part, she responds to it by focusing on taking control of her story and the way it’s told. It didn’t feel overwhelming “woe is me” like it very easily could have; Anderson presents instances where she was treated unfairly or objectified throughout her career, but also examines her faults and takes accountability for things like poor money management or the effects of certain decisions on her children. This adds to the documentary’s credibility; in a genre where controversy over omission of facts and details is commonplace, elements like these that help in establishing its trustworthiness. However, as mentioned above in regards to the Julian Assange segment, that’s not to say “Pamela” always succeeds in rising to the challenge, just that it seems to be making somewhat of a conscious effort to.

It’s not all about what other people did to her, but also what she did to herself. Of course she has every right to talk about what people have done to her or how they’ve treated her; some really awful and unfair things have happened to her throughout her life, and I commend her greatly for having the courage to talk about them and how they’ve affected her. But I commend her even further for examining herself and some of her shortcomings in addition to that.

All in all, documentaries of this style are never going to be perfect; if a person of interest makes it themself, it’s at high risk of being biased, and if someone else makes something about them, it’s at risk of misinterpreting their story. That being said, I feel as though “Pamela: A Love Story” is a decent and admirable entry into the genre. I would definitely recommend this first and foremost for anyone interested in learning more about her or her relationship with Tommy Lee over anything else.