PAMELA: A LOVE STORY – Review by Liz Braun

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You know that terrible movie cliche where the quiet librarian finally lets her hair down, takes off her glasses — and va-va-va-voom?

You can watch Pamela Anderson do that in reverse in Pamela: A Love Story, the entertaining new Netflix documentary about her life.

Anderson upends whatever “Baywatch Babe” idea you might have about her as she tucks her hair up in a bun, puts on her glasses and reveals her nerdy heart for all to see.

Pamela: A Love Story allows Anderson to finally take charge of her story and tell it in her own way.

Minus the male gaze, she is a very different person than her tawdry public image might suggest.

Directed by Ryan White, this doc should perhaps come with a reminder that Anderson is Canadian — the cultural context is useful as you discover that she is brave, thoughtful, self-effacing and funny.

Anderson’s life has gone full circle in a way, as she recently returned to the house she grew up in the little town of Ladysmith, British Columbia. Her parents still live there.

The movie documents her childhood in Ladysmith and moves through her “discovery” in 1989, when she was spotted at a football game in Vancouver — and her blonde bombshellness was put up on the Jumbotron for all to see.

It made her a star overnight.

Playboy wanted her for a photo shoot, an amazing thing for a young woman from small-town Canada, but Anderson downplays all that glamor with a funny story about work permits and having to sneak into the U.S. by bus.

Footage of that first shoot is accompanied by Anderson talking about being raped by an acquaintance at the age of 12.

After years of shame and fear, posing naked for Playboy freed something in her, she says in the film, and gave her a chance to take her power back.

And take it back she did, moving fast through fame, fortune, Baywatch and many marriages.

Her love life consumes a large chunk of Pamela: A Love Story, and the tales are legion. Her marriage to Motley Crue drummer Tommy Lee came after they’d known each other four days, for example, and no doubt came as a bit of shock to Kelly Slater, Anderson’s boyfriend at the time.

Pamela: A Love Story is an engaging and infuriating collection of stories about Anderson, woven together with the use of copious home movies and her own diaries and journals — she’s kept a diary since childhood.

The film includes endearing footage with her two sons and her parents, for example.

The infuriating bits are all about watching her get treated like a piece of meat for public consumption — exactly how many times did creepy Jay Leno ask her about her breasts on TV?

Sadly, for all the positive insight into who she really is, Pamela: A Love Story also reveals that violation of one sort or another has shadowed Anderson’s life.

The latest assault (at least to her) was the Hulu TV series Pam & Tommy, and she’s seen on camera obviously upset that the project was made without her knowledge or permission.

Anderson says in the movie that the theft of her and Tommy Lee’s sex tape from their home in the late ’90s and its subsequent release on-line was the end of her career.

It created a scandal she could not weather; this was nearly a decade before Kim Kardashian made sex tapes mainstream.

The violation of privacy involved in the case and the public shaming Anderson endured at the time were devastating.

For all that, Anderson makes it clear she is not a victim.

Pamela: A Love Story ends with proof of her “survivor” status, as a happy (and very hard-working) Anderson learns to sing and dance — at age 55 — for her very first Broadway role.

She starred as Roxie Hart in Chicago in 2022.

And earned great reviews doing it.

She’ll earn more for Pamela: A Love Story, no doubt.

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Liz Braun

Liz Braun has contributed entertainment stories in print and on radio and TV in Canada for 30 years. She served as film critic for the Toronto Sun and for the Postmedia chain of newspapers.