Netflix’s Pamela Anderson documentary is 100% on Rotten Tomatoes — stream or skip?

Pamela Anderson with a dog in Pamela, a love story
(Image credit: Netflix)

Out of the gate, the new Pamela Anderson documentary on Netflix seems to be one of the streaming service's films that's a hit with both fans and critics.

A mere day after its Tuesday, Jan. 31 release, 'Pamela, a love story' has been spotted at No. 3 on the Netflix Top 10 Movies in the U.S. chart. It currently sits behind the star-filled Netflix Original 'You People' (No. 1) and 'Minions: The Rise of Gru' (No. 2). None of these are an instant pick for the best movies on Netflix, but each merits some consideration.

But the Netflix Top 10 chart is not a reliable indicator of quality, so we're pleased to see that the film is also at 100% on Rotten Tomatoes at the time of publishing. 

'Pamela, a love story' is arriving at an interesting moment in Anderson's life, following last year's Pam & Tommy, a dramatization of the time in her life when a stolen sex tape shredded any sense of privacy. That recent refresher course might be part of the reason why people have flocked to the movie already. But let's break down what Netflix's Pamela Anderson doc offers, and if you should stream it or not.

What is 'Pamela, a love story' about?

'Pamela, a love story' is the first time Anderson's seized control of her own narrative, and controlling how intimately she's allowed to be seen. That means the film not only provides tons of archival footage, but the actor, model and PETA spokesperson is even seen mid-bath, while she explains her story in a voice-over. The contrast — here, Anderson isn't the victim, but the guide — is intentional.

Featuring a producers list including Anderson's son Braden Thomas Lee and esteemed director Ryan White ('The Case Against 8,' 'Ask Dr. Ruth'), the film's intent is to give an unfiltered view of Anderson. And a lot of that comes with a re-examining of her life in the public eye, and how she was mocked and not taken seriously.

Not only does 'Pamela, a love story' allow her to tell her side of how her privacy was destroyed by the stolen tape that would go viral (before we knew that 'viral' could be used like that) online. In it, we learn that the Hulu series 'Pam and Tommy' was not exactly received well by Anderson, as it felt more like she was being forced to revisit a past she was done with. 

While the film goes over both of those projects, and her time on Baywatch, it doesn't dive into Anderson's time on Home Improvement. This may be related to how Anderson alleges (in her upcoming memoir) that star Tim Allen flashed his genitals at her. 

Its third act covers Anderson's more recent endeavors, working with PETA, advocating for Wikileaks founder Julian Assange and performing in 'Chicago' on Broadway.

'Pamela, a love story' reviews: What critics say

While Rotten Tomatoes gives 'Pamela, a love story' a 100% score, the reviews of the film aren't universally glowing. Some, though, are. Glenn Kenny of The New York Times calls the documentary "genuinely engaging"

One mixed review that leans positive comes from, TVGuide's Jordan Hoffman, who writes "There are plenty of formidable examples of how fame's spotlight can ruin a life. (The 2015 Amy Winehouse documentary Amy is among the best out there.) I can't say that Pamela, a love story is an essential addition to the canon, but it did make me think about this very famous woman in a different light. There were times in her life when, in order to continue to work, she was forced to lean into the painful joke her life had become — she was a porno star now, even if she never intended to be, so she had to grin and bear it. You watch this and feel infuriated."

Pamela Anderson in Pamela, a love story

(Image credit: Netflix)

Lindsey Bahr at the Associated Press calls the film "a captivating watch, especially for those who never thought much about her at all." She also ponders "if no one thought to ever ask her the right questions before, if we just weren’t listening carefully enough, or the wrong people were in the position to ask the questions," before concluding "I’m glad that this era of the biographical documentary is going strong, allowing for people like Anderson to correct the record themselves."

Ready Steady Cut's Adam Lock compliments the film's first half as "a fascinating retelling of the celebrity’s life up until her divorce in 1998, supplemented with Pamela Anderson’s own, honest take on the eventful decade." The rest of the film? Well, Lock notes "the documentary dips in quality after the nineties’ mayhem, whizzing through her other marriages and subsequent ventures with less enthusiasm. It gets a little repetitive and the overall running time is far too long. This would have worked better as a more succinct feature length."

He also notes that Anderson is "genuine and reflective, providing her own analysis of each decision, whether it be poorly calculated or well-meaning at heart."

Outlook: Should you watch 'Pamela: a love story' tonight?

Fans of Ms. Anderson probably don't need my recommendation, and this probably helped propel the film up the top 10 list. That said, those who aren't as familiar with Anderson will probably find the movie just as interesting, as they'll be learning more than the fans who have been around.

Those who want an unflinching and critical look at Ms. Anderson may not get it. On the red carpet, producer Braden Thomas Lee (Anderson's son) has said "It's every woman’s oldest son’s duty to protect their mother," so it's best to go into the film with that expectation: that this is a film meant to give Anderson a platform.

Henry T. Casey
Managing Editor (Entertainment, Streaming)

Henry is a managing editor at Tom’s Guide covering streaming media, laptops and all things Apple, reviewing devices and services for the past seven years. Prior to joining Tom's Guide, he reviewed software and hardware for TechRadar Pro, and interviewed artists for Patek Philippe International Magazine. He's also covered the wild world of professional wrestling for Cageside Seats, interviewing athletes and other industry veterans.