Review by Sean Boelman
The great thing about watching documentaries at film festivals is that you get to see some about topics you wouldn’t expect to make for great entertainment. Lily Topples the World is one such movie, as filmmaker Jeremy Workman took a story that doesn’t seem like it would be all that compelling and made something legitimately moving out of it.
The film tells the story of domino artist and YouTube star Lily Hevesh as she tries to navigate the world of professional domino toppling as the only woman in the movie. There are elements of an underdog story here, along with the behind-the-scenes art documentary stuff that one would expect, and the result makes the audience appreciate Hevesh’s work in an even deeper way than they probably did before.
For the most part, the film follows Hevesh around as she goes about her different gigs, making domino art for advertisements, collaborations, and other outlets (even including one piece for The Tonight Show). However, Workman also wants to make sure that the audience sees her humility, exploring aspects of her family life and time at college.
There is undeniably something inspiring about this story and getting to see someone like Hevesh who has made a successful path for herself. She has gotten to take her passion and make a career out of it, which is admirable as heck, and will hopefully inspire future generations to continue to chase what they love.
At an hour and thirty minutes in length, the movie does start to get a bit derivative after a certain point, watching Hevesh carefully place dominos into patterns to make them fall in a spectacular way. However, there is another story that comes up later in the film about Hevesh creating her own line of dominos, and this is fascinating but underdeveloped.
Perhaps the biggest highlight of this movie is getting to see footage of Hevesh’s creations. The things she is able to make out of these pieces are astounding, and it’s totally understandable why she has gained such a following for these videos. Audiences will certainly be left wanting to check out more of what she has done.
Apart from the magnificent domino art footage, this is a mostly traditional documentary. Workman does a good job of positioning the camera during the fly-on-the-wall footage so that we can see Hevesh working in a way that also allows us to see the beauty of her work, but he doesn’t subvert expectations in terms of what he shows.
Lily Topples the World is a compelling documentary, and while there are some parts that are a bit redundant, the story is good enough to hold the audience’s attention. It comes as no surprise that this moving tale won the Grand Jury Prize for Documentary Feature at SXSW.
Lily Topples the World screened as a part of the online edition of the 2021 SXSW Film Festival, which ran March 16-20.