Pam & Tommy, streaming on Disney+ in Australia from February 2, is a wild, weird, often grotesque and intimate telling of the theft and subsequent distribution of Pamela Anderson and Tommy Lee’s homemade sex tape. Truth is often stranger than fiction and that idiom rings true here, however, just because the truth is strange, doesn’t mean it’s all that interesting.
Pam & Tommy succeeds most when it’s focused on the two people at its centre; Pam and Tommy. It’s less so, and less interesting when focused on peripheral characters, especially Seth Rogan’s Rand Gautier; the man who stole the tape. He’s integral to the story but he’s also kind of a schmuck of a guy and he’s never treated with the derision he deserves.
In fact, a third act attempt at redeeming him falls flat and flies in the face of the message Pam & Tommy tries to deliver. Sadly, while the actual events depicted in this series destroyed the lives and Anderson and Lee, it’s only the former who suffered long term and in spite of, what I hope, are the filmmakers’ best intentions, this version of Pamela gets pushed to the background as the story spends most of its time focused on the men involved.
Pam & Tommy Review
Playing the titular leads are Lily James (Baby Driver, Downton Abbey) and Sebastian Stan (The Falcon and The Winter Soldier, I, Tonya) who both deliver phenomenal performances. Both actors utterly disappear into the roles though it’s arguably Stan who has the most impressive transformation. James is incredible as Anderson, however, she is often reduced to set dressing or fades into the background. She may be at the centre of the story but it’s the men in this series who receive most of the attention.
In the first three episodes, which all arrive on February 2, we see Lee’s poor treatment of Gautier, a carpenter working at Lee and Anderson’s home, which leads to him stealing the couple’s safe while disguised as a dog. We learn about Anderson and Lee’s whirlwind romance and marriage on the beach in Mexico and we get to see Lee have a conversation with his enormous penis; voiced by Jason Mantzoukas.
As I said, it’s wild, grotesque and intimate.
The portrait that’s painted of the couple is one of love and lust. An important and hilarious scene takes place as they fly back to Los Angeles from Cancun, now married and having spent days locked up in their hotel room doing what couples do. Lee nervously turns to Anderson and asks her what her favourite movie is. She likes classic romances, love stories; sweet, wholesome films. On returning the question, Lee smirks as he tells her of his love for Child’s Play, Friday the 13th and A Nightmare on Elm Street. Pamela shifts nervously in her seat and Lee readjust himself, always keeping his ‘veneer of cool’ in place. The scene shows the vast differences between these two people, their world views and their ideals. They may be in love, but they’re not on the same page.
Gautier, played by Rogan, after stealing the couple’s safe, discovers the tape and with the help of porn industry associate, Milton Ingley aka Uncle Miltie (Nick Offerman) attempts to sell it. Nobody wants it as it’s stolen and without releases, the tape is worthless. However, Gautier decides to use the, then still new, world wide web, to sell and distribute the tape with the safety of anonymity. He borrows money from a loan shark, gets in too deep and is ultimately worse off than when he started but Pam & Tommy never goes all-in on casting him as the villain.
He’s a victim of circumstance. He’s lonely and sad and in love with a woman who doesn’t love him back. He’s an icon for the incels.
Sadly, Pam & Tommy spends more time focusing on Gautier, his motivations and his hurt feelings than it does on Pamela Anderson’s. In a pivotal moment, Anderson explains to a room full of men why this tape is so much worse for her but Lee can’t understand, “I’m on that tape too” he replies. No matter how hard she tries to get him to understand she’ll be slut shamed and he’ll be branded a stud. There are a few other half-hearted attempts at injecting the notion of consent into the series, but ultimately it becomes about the men involved while Pamela is cast aside.
It’s telling that aside from a female producer, Gautier’s fictional wife and Anderson’s mother, the female characters in this series are barely non-existent. They either appear as set dressing or props for the men, rarely speak and when they do, have very little of substance to say. James is phenomenal as Anderson but she’s screaming into the void and with so much male-dominated noise around her, she gets drowned out.
For all its flaws, Pam & Tommy is entertaining and worth watching for James and Stan’s performances alone. It has pacing issues, particularly when Gautier is given so much screen time but overall is a hell of a ride.
While it could have been a brutal smackdown of the patriarchy and double standards woman receive in Hollywood and the world over, Pam & Tommy gets muddled and instead opts for titillation. Rather than having something to say, Pam & Tommy has a story to tell with a sprinkling of morality thrown in as an afterthought.
There’s a deeper lesson and meaning to be extracted from this story but it’s an opportunity missed. For all its comedy and shock and entertainment value, Pam & Tommy could have been a poignant look at a pretty dark chapter. Instead, it’s like a Mötley Crüe album; fun, fast-paced, puerile, misogynistic and painfully shallow.
All eight episodes of Pam & Tommy were provided to PowerUp! for review.
Pam & Tommy begins streaming on Disney+ in Australia on February 2, 2022.