Sometimes a celebrated movie about young guys looking for love — well, sort of — will inaugurate an entire series. This was so for towering epics of cinema like Porky’s and American Pie. Before these, there was an earlier archetype, Lemon Popsicle. This was remade as The Last American Virgin and also inspired a few other spinoffs. What sets the original apart from these well-known gems of the silver screen is that it came from America’s greatest ally, the only true democracy in the Middle East, and the conscience of the world — which of course is our brave little friend Israel.
After the début, a sequel soon emerged, which is also worth a look. Then there was another movie every year or two for the next decade, and then one follow-up after that. All told, the impressive franchise includes:
- 1978 – Lemon Popsicle
- 1979 – Going Steady (also known as Greasy Kid Stuff)
- 1981 – Hot Bubblegum
- 1982 – Private Popsicle
- 1983 – Baby Love
- 1985 – Up Your Anchor
- 1987 – Young Love: Lemon Popsicle 7
- 1988 – Summertime Blues: Lemon Popsicle VIII
- 2001 – Lemon Popsicle 9: The Party Goes On
More seriously, whether or not these types of films are your cup of tea, it can’t be denied that Lemon Popsicle was a trendsetter.
Under the hood
The title in the original Hebrew is לימון אסקימו, which can be transliterated as Eskimo Limon, named after the tasty treats commonly sold on Tel Aviv’s sunny beach. (It’s also fitting since it’s set in Israel, and they have more Eskimos there than Alaska, right? They also have more garden gnomes than a pottery factory, more clip tips than a freshly-pruned rose garden, and more early lifers than the Boy Scouts.) Production was done by the celebrated duo of cinema, Menahem Golan and Yoram Globus. The director, Boaz Davidson, has confided that the protagonist was based on his own teenage years. According to an interview, “About 99% of it really happened.” Ouch! The other major roles are based on real people, too.
The characters turned out to be surprisingly relatable. For those with a dim view of their country of origin, keep in mind that these kids are ordinary, middle-class types who are quite normal aside from their sexual peccadillos. It’s not like they’re spies, dope traffickers, white slave traders, dual citizen neocon chickenhawks in Washington trying to get us into another spit-in-your-eye war, or some other less-than-endearing type. Furthermore, the Israelis tend to have their heads screwed on straighter than neurotic diaspora types. It seems that everything in Israel gets done sensibly — about the opposite of the way things are in the United States. Best of all, we’re over here, and they’re over there, and everyone is happier that way. Work with me on this, okay?
The casting was quite good for this one. Niki, the leading lady — or Nili, in the original Hebrew — is played by Anette Atzmon, making her acting début. (I wonder if she’s related to Gilad. I like that guy; he’s a straight talker.) In all seriousness, Anette is a charming lady and well-suited for the role. On the cute brunette scale, I’d rate her pretty higly, between the lovely Natalie Portman and the stunning dime piece Mila Kunis.
The maiden catches the eyes of three friends, creating a rivalry between two of them. These friends are Benji, Huey, and Bobby — originally Benz, Yudaleh, and Momo in Hebrew. Benji is the nebbish type, typical for the protagonist of teen romantic comedies. He looks like a young and infinitely more innocent version of Leon “General Buttnaked” Trotsky. Huey is the fat kid playing the schlemiel role. If a tenth installment is to be made, Jonah Hill would be the obvious pick. (Yudaleh means something like “little Judah,” though there’s nothing little about him, and he’s by far the least likely of the three to rat out one of his pals for thirty pieces of silver. Fortunately they didn’t translate his name to Judy.) As for Bobby, he’s sort of an Israeli Fonzie in both appearance and charisma, and definitely a chutzpahnik, too. Stifler in the American Pie series is cut from nearly the same cloth.
Although it’s on location in Tel Aviv, it seems not entirely different from Los Angeles of the 1950s. The opening scenes treat the audience to iconic cars and crotch rockets of the time. The soundtrack throughout is of first-generation rock music — sometimes lively, sometimes sweet and crooning. Occasional signs in Hebrew are the biggest tip-off that it’s actually another country. (Hey, this is the 51st state, right?) If not for an above-average incidence of Mediterranean features such as prognathous jawlines and majestically surplus nasal physiognomy, they would actually look pretty close to actual Americans rather than greasy foreigners. Such differences are fairly subtle, and at least from what we can see here, it also seems that their youth culture at the time had much in common with ours.
Huey approaches a couple of cuties at the Montana, their hangout, which is essentially an iconic ice cream shop also serving as a dance hall. Despite an initially frosty reception, he recovers the set remarkably well. (1950s nightgame was so much friendlier than now, before the bra-burning women’s libbers started pissing in the punch bowl!) Then he brings them to the table where Benji and Bobby are. They bounce, ditching Huey and running away with the girls. With friends like that, who needs enemies?
They sneak into a movie theater. Soon after the newsreel begins, Bobby has his hand down his girl’s blouse, but Benji isn’t getting anywhere. It doesn’t matter much; the usher kicks the boys out, correctly suspecting that they didn’t pay. The girls are left to enjoy the free movie; female privilege is alive and well.
The next scene is set in gym class. There’s a hole in the wall through which one can observe the girls’ locker room. (Fans of Porky’s will recognize that shtick; this is where it came from.) Criticized by the guys for being a voyeur, Victor — the one doing the observing — defends himself rather oddly by claiming he has the biggest private part of all of them. Then someone puts it to the test by measuring everyone. It turns out that Victor is indeed declared the “king of the shmucks” — a title which is surely a mixed blessing. Someone unloads the water cooler on his head, all in good fun.
Later, Benji notices Niki again, the new girl in town who first caught his eye at the ice cream shop. Another day he gives her a lift to school after sabotaging her bike. Despite the favor, she isn’t interested in seeing him again. In a scene set back at home, it turns out that Benji has an overbearing mother. (Who would’ve guessed it?) He tries to borrow some money for a date. His mother, a returnee from Poland, replies in a heavy accent, “Who does she expect to marry? Benji Rothschild?” Still, she relents, warning him, “Don’t return with a shiksa.” The family scene has its moments, though Jim’s parents in American Pie have more advanced roles.
Then we find the boys at a party. Niki is there, too, looking cute and innocent as before. Already she’s dancing with Bobby, to Benji’s obvious chagrin. Bobby even rubs his nose in it. Niki’s friend Martha wants to dance with Benji. Despite the attention, he’s not having any of it.
Martha’s costuming makes her seem somewhat frumpy, but certainly nothing to complain about. (She bears a striking resemblance to a certain blonde in Salt Lake City — the other Zion — who put my heart through a meat grinder.) Seriously, the actress Rachel Steiner remains smoking hot even now. Although there are exceptions, somehow their ladies tend to age far better than their men. Goldie Hawn and Nina Hartley are getting on in years, but stayed cute; meanwhile, George Soros and Henry Kissinger look like they’re long overdue for the taxidermist.
Sucking on a bottle, he approaches Niki in the bathroom. It turns out that she’s already fallen for Bobby. Before long, the drunken Benji causes a scene. Huey helps him stagger back home. There, his relatives have come over, leading to another scene.
Benji, the biggest schlimmazl in Tel Aviv
The next day, Benji is at his job as the assistant to an ice vendor. Again, this is the early 1950s, before self-cooling refrigerators were widely available and iceboxes were literally that. One of his customers –Stella, a returnee from Italy — tries to seduce him. (Perhaps ice vendors were Israel’s equivalent to American milkmen? Or was Tel Aviv’s milkman a “friend of Dorothy?”) Ophelia Shtrall’s nymphomaniac cougar role as Stella is analogous to Stifler’s mom in the American Pie movies.
Benji flakes off work and returns to her, rather unwisely bringing his two friends. (What was this boychik thinking? Is he meshuggeh?) Stella serves drinks — not that the teenagers need much inspiration to tag-team her. She helps herself to Bobby first. Then Huey gets sloppy seconds, apparently losing his cherry. The merciless filmmakers give us a shot of his wide-load bare butt between her knees. Just before it’s Benji’s turn, Stella’s sailor boyfriend makes an unexpected arrival. Oy veh!
Later, Bobby hotwires a car. (Don’t try this at home, kids!) He brings Benji, Niki, and her friend to Tel Aviv’s beach. Soon Bobby and Niki are “parking” in the back seat. Martha still likes Benji and manages to get him to kiss her, even though he has ONEitis for Niki. Unfortunately he has a mishap with the gearshift, causing the car to roll forward into the Mediterranean. That turns out to be a fun event, unlike a Ted Kennedy tragedy, and of course it’s not even their car.
After school, Bobby asks Benji for the key to his grandmother’s place so that he can have a hot date alone with Niki. (Did I mention that he’s a chutzpahnik?) Benji says he’ll bring the key, but later says he can’t find it. He’s probably lying, getting smart for once.
Benji makes a counter-offer of an outing with a hooker. This is Ricki, played by Denise Bouzaglo — a bit too (((ethnic))) for my preferences, but still attractive on objective grounds. Unlike the affably coquettish “me so horny, me love you long time” gookette in Full Metal Jacket, this friend of Toulouse-Lautrec is crude and cynical. They fail to haggle Ricki’s price down, but their tribal bargaining skills clearly aren’t on point. She holds firm, so they have to tag-team her at the full asking rate. Benji comes out of the encounter with a thousand-yard stare, and soon vomits. Dude, that’s entirely the wrong way to lose your cherry . . .
Later, it turns out that Ricki infected the three of them with crab lice. In the scene in which they discover what is causing their groins to itch, there is a pickle shot which left my eyes bleeding. Next, they’re hanging out in a pool for hours, attempting to drown the crabs. (The Germans have more efficient delousing techniques, but surely it would’ve given them a lifelong case of PTSD.) While the defiled trio try to soak away the infestation of pubic parasites, the maidenly Niki and Martha walk up, as pure as sunshine. Soon after the boys get out of the water, the crotch critters start biting again. The next stop is to a pharmacy to get rid of the sexually transmitted arthropods.
Finally, Bobby seduces Niki. He has the bad taste to brag to Benji about it. That causes much heartbreak. Benji was the one who really cared about her, and his friend just wanted to score. Oh, but it gets so much worse even than that.
Imagine reading a spicy historical romance novel set in the Victorian era’s demi-monde. After an enchanting tryst with a handsome rake, the vivacious heroine strolls home dreamily in romantic reverie, all but walking on clouds, and suddenly Jack the Ripper jumps out of an alley and stabs her in the guts. Lemon Popsicle features an abrupt change of tone similar to that. In all seriousness, this gets grim.
Specifically, Niki gets pregnant. Then Bobby promptly dumps her. (Why haven’t half a million years of human evolution selected this behavior out of the gene pool?) In another chilling development, Benji pays for her abortion. Anyhow, to get this out of the way up front, I should add that I’m not particularly interested in utilitarian arguments about the subject and would prefer not to debate it.
I wish I could say Niki steps back from the abyss at the last minute and finds a loving couple to adopt the kid, but that’s not what happens. She undresses (although in that context, no normal human being would consider it fanservice), gets in the stirrups, and the baby assassin chloroforms her, all to the sweet, crooning tunes of classic rock. Speaking of dropping the A-bomb, the scene is about like watching The Day After while stoned on Xanax. I could’ve used a bottle of brain bleach.
The director said that real life wrote the plot of the movie. This was unusual honesty, but something this ghastly still seems out of place in a teen rom-com. I’d say that’s too much realism. Quite oddly, it’s up to a fascist reviewer many decades later to sense the tragedy of an Israeli baby who never had a chance and is only remembered as a plot complication. I thought that despite all the feminist bunny boilers in their tribe, they required abortions to be approved by a bioethics panel that doesn’t consider inconvenience as grounds for the junior-league death penalty. Maybe it was different back then.
After coming to her rescue and doing away with the “problem,” Benji finally gets to kiss Niki. Her birthday is coming up soon. (She’s no longer looking like a deer in the headlights. Still, it’s a hell of a time to be discussing birthdays. Did they forget that someone ain’t getting one, ever?) He buys his new girlfriend a golden necklace for a gift.
Then, at her party, she’s already back with Bobby again. Whiskey Tango Foxtrot? Benji wanders home alone as the credits roll. All told, the movie begins as a sexually-charged comedy and ends practically as an advertisement for MGTOW.
The final word
Lemon Popsicle certainly has its share of cute moments and funny scenes, though not without some jarring exceptions. Its cultural significance is as a forerunner of the teen romantic comedy genre — say what you will about this sort of entertainment –, creating many of the tropes that would be further developed in later films. I’ll add that the sequel, in which Benji levels up in douchebaggery (though not as much as everyone thinks), had some pretty amazing costuming. I could wax lyrical about 1950s-style bullet bras, and I must give credit where it’s due: Those were Khazar milkies at their finest! Martha’s appearance in full epiphany was quite stunning.
Troubled adolescence has been an Israeli literary specialty since the Bronze Age. In cinematic form, it turns out that these themes were easily translatable to another society. Likewise, Lemon Popsicle also provides a good bit of Boomer nostalgia, much like Porky’s, even though it takes place in another country. However, in light of the way the plot developed toward the end, the American Pie series, which it also inspired, comes across as a tribute to family values in comparison.
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