All the world’s a stage—and pimps and whores its players. At least that’s the equation that seems to sum up Mark Toma’s mirthless, relentlessly cynical comedy Prince of Swine. In what’s both the ultimate and the obvious metaphor for Tinseltown success, Hollywood is indeed a harlot in Toma’s film, as is the law, and, whether they want to be or not, so are most of the women. Of course, the men hardly get off any easier.
In fact, the project’s central insight isn’t so much that the fairer sex must fuck their way to the top in Movieland (though that point is certainly given brutal illustration), nor that all forms of social interaction are performances, dictated by the same terms as the film industry (an observation rather less comprehensively delineated), but indeed that women are often complicit in their own exploitation.
From obvious thematic montages of the neon lights of Hollywood sex shops alternating with check-cashing shops and other get-money-now schemes to shots of nude women happily cavorting at a producer’s hot-tub party, this willing degradation is everywhere apparent. The practice of trading sex for fame, in fact, forms the central narrative of Toma’s film, as an idealistic young female lawyer signs on for the discrimination suit of a would-be starlet against the wishes of her male superiors. But in Prince of Swine no one is uncompromised and, even as Julie (Nell Ruttledge) fights to prove her client was blacklisted for not sleeping with a powerful producer, the tenacious attorney finds herself in bed with her woman–hating superior (Toma himself), her anguish at her inability to mingle rationality and impulse emphasized by the director’s repeated close-ups of her tortured coital visage.
Played as broadly and as crudely as you please (in terms of acting, direction, “edgy” dialogue), Prince of Swine paints a grimly ugly portrait of male sexual violence and female submission. If the former subject allows the filmmaker to pepper his script with constant humorless lines about “whores” and “bitches” and to paint a scene of almost unwatchable degradation carried out by the slimiest film producer to hit screens in years, than it also permits him to portray his gallery of females as over-the-top bimbos designed for the audience’s putative amusement. There’s clearly some feminist intent behind all the exaggeration, particularly in the way the film shows how male-dominated industries turn women against each other, but mostly Toma’s movie just indulges in grotesque hijinks for their own sake, resulting in a tone-deaf, unfunny pageant of gender-based caricatures.