We all know Pamela Anderson. Actually, we think we know Pamela Anderson. We may remember the headlines of tabloids in the 90s and early 2000s, shouting about her various marriages, her sex tape and most of all, her bosom.
With Pamela: A Love Story, Anderson successfully reclaims her own narrative and her voice, something that has been robbed from her time and time again over the years, most recently in 2022, but we’ll get to that later.
When we first see Anderson on screen, she’s wearing a white T-shirt and has no makeup. She has clearly aged from the blonde bombshell with sultry eyes that we remember. Perhaps this is supposed to be a reboot of her image, or maybe she’s just tired of having to put on a front, but Pamela: A Love Story never feels like there’s an agenda. It’s simple in form; Anderson watches a lot of home videos and reads paragraphs from her diaries in an ethereal voice, and recounts events from her point of view.
The Netflix documentary chronicles Anderson’s whole life story. She candidly tells the filmmakers and audience about her difficult childhood, including domestic violence and an abusive babysitter. She also opens up about being raped at the age of 12.
Anderson also reminisces about moving to LA and being in Playboy. She speaks of the empowerment of it all, feeling good in her body and finding power in being able to use it for something. It’s remarkable how self-aware Anderson is throughout the entire film; she knows she was beloved for her body but rather than be ashamed of it, she fully embraces it and is proud of it, as she should.
It’s all very generic until the film digs into her tumultuous marriage to rocker Tommy Lee. Marrying after just four days of knowing each other, that marriage has seemingly come to truly define Anderson’s sense of self. She recounts the euphoria she felt with Lee but also doesn’t shy away from the abuse she suffered from him. She’s careful not to demonise Lee; he’s the father of her children, and you’re left with the sense that he was her biggest, truest love.
Memorably, Anderson and Lee’s sex tape was leaked and mass-produced, eventually uploaded on the internet for everyone to see (the internet was relatively new at this time). Anderson took most of the heat for it, and while the couple tried to take it to court, they eventually dropped the charges to focus on their family. Anderson notes that they still don’t know who stole the tape.
The whole ordeal was fictionalised in Hulu’s Pam & Tommy in 2022. Anderson publicly criticised the show for forcing her to endure the trauma again; Hulu never asked for her consent or involvement in retelling her story, a move that drew a lot of criticism, although the show was otherwise a hit for the streamer and was nominated for several Emmys.
If there is anger, Anderson hides it well in the documentary. She’s a calm, funny and warm presence. She’s made peace with the hardships she has survived, and survived is exactly the correct word to use here and one she uses herself. She admits to putting herself in many strange situations but also credits herself for coming out on the other side.
The lasting impression of Anderson is one of crushing, unbearable loneliness. She was a woman beloved by all but truly loved by few. Seemingly addicted to falling in love and getting married, Anderson comes across as someone who struggles to be alone. Still, the documentary ends on a happier note with Anderson doing something just for herself, starring in a stage production of Chicago as Roxie.
Pamela: A Love Story gives Anderson back her agency and allows her to tell her own stories, warts and all. She never claims to be perfect, but these imperfections, mistakes if you will, make her so human and compelling. The documentary brings out her infectious personality and joy and gives us a fully fleshed-out portrait of the woman we all thought we knew a bit too intimately.
Pamela: A Love Story is streaming on Netflix now.