Lily Topples the World, 2021.
Directed by Jeremy Workman.
Featuring Lily Hevesh.
Follows 20-year-old Lily Hevesh – the world’s most acclaimed domino toppler and the only woman in her field – in a coming-of-age story of artistry, passion, and unlikely triumph.
“If you have an odd interest, keep doing it,” are the wise words uttered by world-renowned 22-year-old domino artist Lily Hevesh late in this documentary, a quote which perfectly underlines this inspiring and wonderfully wholesome profile of Hevesh’s achievements to date.
Documentaries can offer audiences windows into totally unique worlds, and while Lily is on the surface a seemingly ordinary, chirpy young woman, this brisk delve into the realm of domino artistry confirms her jaw-dropping genius by means informative, entertaining, and unexpectedly affecting.
Hevesh, who today has three million YouTube subscribers and over a billion views to her name, has effectively become the contemporary face of the domino community, and is notably the only prominent woman in the field. Filmmaker Jeremy Workman (The World Before Your Feet) is granted extensive access to Lily as she attempts to grow her brand while grappling with more typical coming-of-age anxieties and trying to find her place in the world.
Even if the human interest elements somehow don’t grab you, the mind-blowing footage of Hevesh’s domino art – of which there is a ton – makes Lily Topples the World worthwhile viewing alone.
But considering how the average punter likely knows little about the subject, Workman’s film crucially attempts to understand the art form, hobby, or whatever else one might call it. Hevesh makes a potent argument that domino toppling is a fusion of art and science, of aesthetics, engineering, and order, yet imbued with a childlike purity which makes its oft-spectacular results appealing to kids and adults alike.
The mind-boggling level of patience and perfectionism required to pursue the art speaks for itself, expending so much time and energy for what is more often than not a quick payoff, and where a single wrong move can send it crashing all down – as literally happens in one of Lily’s more ambitious collaboration projects.
Lily is herself a tremendously likeable subject, touting a welcoming, relaxed energy which truly does make her feel like the natural face for the “industry.” Beyond this, Lily finds herself at a crossroads as she becomes a young adult, weighing up the worth of a college education against the time it would take away from her domino work, which having scored her gigs on Will Smith movies, Katy Perry videos, and The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon, is clearly paying off dividends.
Lily’s drive to become an entrepreneur and make a sustained living out of her art is at the core of the film, particularly her quest to market her own line of bespoke dominoes. Unsurprisingly the deal-making is a sluggish process, with many potential partners seemingly failing to appreciate how an online following can translate into commercial success. Thankfully, Lily did eventually get her dominoes made, and the Amazon reviews are great.
Workman paints Lily as an emblem of her generation, to whom media means something entirely different. Sites such as YouTube present a democratised platform for content, where talented people have an opportunity to build a connection with an audience and even make a career, while skirting around the more bureaucratic and dubiously motivated aspects of the mass media circus.
Identity is also a theme core to the portrait of Lily, who was adopted from China as a baby by an American couple. Having been abandoned by her biological parents, Lily possesses virtually no concrete knowledge about where she came from – even her assigned birthday is a guess – and in one of the film’s most alluring moments, she meditates on how she’d likely be a completely different person had she not been adopted. It speaks to the “randomness” of life, and how even the most natural fit for a person can be informed by the confluence of myriad external factors.
Lily may not have found dominoes were she not adopted from China, but it’s tough to argue with her closing statement that this niche hobby opened a gateway for her self-actualisation, expanding her world while she appears to keep an impressively level head. This charming and surprisingly riveting documentary captures the intricate beauty of domino artistry, while delivering a winsome profile of its subject.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★
Shaun Munro – Follow me on Twitter for more film rambling.