High on spunk and sincerity, if rather short on tech credits and follow-through, “Rhinoskin” is an amiable and wide-eyed documentary on the struggles of a young, aspiring actor in today’s Hollywood. With a roving camera and sound crew documenting his own (and every other showbiz wannabe’s) worst Tinseltown rejection nightmares, the film’s subject, co-director and co-writer, Tod De Pree, manages to turn humiliation into a badge of honor, and a very amusing film.
Perhaps not “serious” enough for many festivals, pic should nonetheless please public TV audiences and perhaps European arts channels hungry for a funny contemporary look at life on the bottom rungs of the American entertainment industry.
As struggling thesp De Pree tries gamely to break into the business, co-writer/director/producer Dina Marie Chapman is on hand questioning the wisdom of investing her time and gas money in what looks increasingly like a portrait of pathetic, abject failure. De Pree is continually shut down by a beautiful young actress, given the bum’s rush in casting land and relentlessly hustled by agents, head-shot artists, physical trainers, stylists, acting coaches, colonic therapists and cosmetic surgeons.
But as in the best Hollywood tradition, failure has a funny way of turning into a cockeyed triumph, and many of the characters that first appear crass or deluded wind up displaying real interest in the kid, his quest and his talent. The camera crew also visits Tod’s Midwestern hometown, and the Diane Arbus/Richard Avedon-type portraits of small-town life make the case for taking the first Greyhound west.
While diverting and often engaging, eventually “Rhinoskin” becomes a little like watching a friend’s home movies. Other than some shrewd work by the editor in finding ways to assemble the scramble of off-the-cuff shots, the film never develops a viewpoint much beyond De Pree’s own as he ventures out on his dogged quest to get one line of dialogue on a network sitcom.
It’s a measure of De Pree’s good-natured, implacable screen persona and scrappy determination that the film plays as well as it does. If you’re rooting for him to get on “Doogie Howser,” then he’s justified his partner’s Texaco bill. For longtime observers of Hollywood’s mean streets, doc is packed with genuinely strange and wonderful locals.