Netflixable? Documentary “Pamela” gives Anderson a chance at Her Side of “A Love Story”

I saw just enough of the “Pam & Tommy” Hulu series to think, “Yeah, about what I expected” and “Nooo, not for me.”

Salacious and lowbrow, yes. Emmy winning it might have been. But if you commit to avoiding “Baywatch” and every thing the Playboy empress, chat show favorite, sex-tape star and Kardashian of Her Day was attached to — save for her feature film debut, “Barb Wire” — you don’t want to break that streak.

To Pamela Anderson herself? That series was another cruel swipe at her persona and the woman behind it, another unsolicited slap at what’s left of her reputation.

So like a lot of folks, I was curious enough about the “real” Canadian cover girl/blonde bombshell/sex-in-a-swimsuit to check out Ryan White’s Netflix documentary “starring” her.

That’s proper billing, because “Pamela: A Love Story,” has a performative aspect. It begins with her “finding” a stash of video tapes and declaring “I didn’t know I had all those.”

Sure. OK.

I generally don’t go for documentaries that open with a whopper like that, but if the director of “Ask Dr. Ruth” is OK with it, let’s see how far he and his star take this.

It is very much “A Love Story,” letting Anderson do almost all of the talking.

She describes her life, her parents’ tumultuous Canadian working class marriage and a rough upbringing that included a child-molesting babysitter and rape at age 12.

“Discovered” as a teen in a LaBatts T-shirt at a Canadian football game — commercials, posters, “Playboy,” Playmate, “Baywatch,” international beauty icon, late night TV chat show punchline, married oodles of times, often on a whim, she’s done a lot of living and skims the surface of that here.

“It’s good to get it out, once or twice, in your own words,” admits a woman who is often “portrayed” by others in words not her own.

Interviewed for the film, with questions that generally lead to mini-monologues, reading from her years of yellow legal pad journals, mowing her mother’s Vancouver Island lawn in fashionable boots and sundress, watching hours of home videos (but not THAT video) and recounting, at length, the events depicted in “Pam & Tommy,” Anderson comes off as “real” as this format allows.

Unguarded? No. Deep? Not really, but somewhat self-aware. Unfiltered, warts and all? Only the ones she wants us to see, kids.

When we glimpse her latest ex-husband, a Canadian contractor she dumped in January of last year, after being married a year, we get an idea of the voices this documentary lacks to be authoritative.

Motley Crue drummer Tommy Lee she describes as the love of her life, and considering the fractious passion she remembers in her parents’ relationship, that’s understandable and revealing. She seems to think so, too. That’s what “love” looked like, to her. Lee went to prison for abusing her.

She dated a few jerks (Kid Rock), had lingering affairs with womanizers (surfer Kelly Slater) and the like. Even her marriages were interpreted as A), her ditzy impulsiveness and B), half a dozen men’s desire to “acquire” this status symbol, objectifying her all the way to the altar.

But when you marry guys you barely know, I mean, come on.

Snippets of archival interviews with Kid Rock and Tommy Lee don’t remotely cover “the other side” of these relationships or hint at the damage she must have left in her wake, at least on some occasions.

But that would, to be glib, cut into her victimhood screen time. There’s plenty of coverage of the degradation and humiliation she suffered when someone stole a safe from her house with Tommy Lee, and the world’s first “viral sex tape” came to light. Add to that ugliness a few extremely creepy interview clips from a chat with Matt Lauer, a disingenuous Jay Leno “Who ME?” chat show confrontation that is no confrontation (over his mockery of her) at all, while glossing over her connection to Julian Assange, laughing off her contacts with Vladimir Putin over saving the seals calls into question Pamela’s “truth,” and the film’s.

So that opening fib has given us our expectations. Don’t take all of this as unfiltered facts, and don’t accept her self-analysis as the last word on her career, talents, love life and psychology.

The only “expert” interviewed here is Gregory Butler, the LA dance coach who got her into passable shape to join “Chicago” on Broadway, playing Roxie. And he is nothing but a gentleman and as diplomatic as can be about her singing and dancing skills, trotted out for the first time in her mid-50s.

But I did not expect to find Anderson as likable as she plainly can be, as articulate and down to Earth as she often is. Her “college,” after all, was the Playboy Mansion and the beaches of “Baywatch.” That was her acting school, too.

She and the film’s third-party video evidence of abusive, taunting “stalkerazzi” celeb photographers, of Lee’s on-the-spectrum jealousy, of the injustices she was subjected to trying to keep creeps from profiting off her stolen and edited video property, gives one an appreciation of the downside to breast-augmented, skin-baring life in the spotlight.

Celebrity’s “deal with the Devil” nature is right there for all to see in the Life of Pamela Anderson.

I don’t know if her “Pam & Tommy” pushback really works, countering the Hulu series with her assertion that they had “one of the wildest, most beautiful love affairs ever.”

And more importantly, I don’t know how much of “A Love Story” to buy, hook line and sinker. No, her two sons with Lee aren’t impartial witnesses, any more than her mother and father are.

But it’s in her “own words,” and even if I don’t buy all of it, that’s good enough for me. I can’t imagine anybody else undertaking a film about her at this stage, or that I’d care to see it. She went through some things and she’s still here. And if she gets the last word, for once, that’s celebrity justice, I guess.

Rating: TV-MA, nudity, profanity, innuendo

Cast: Pamela Anderson, Gregory Butler, (archival footage, Jon Stewart, Jimmy Kimmel, Matt Lauer, Jay Leno and Tommy Lee).

Credits: Directed by Ryan White. A Netflix release.

Running time: 1:52


About Roger Moore

Movie Critic, formerly with McClatchy-Tribune News Service, Orlando Sentinel, published in Spin Magazine, The World and now published here, Orlando Magazine, Autoweek Magazine
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