By Elias Savada.
A lovely little crowd pleaser, devoid of drama but filled with captivating artistry.”
Like a leisurely afternoon watching fun YouTube videos, Lily Topples the World collects a bunch of those, and more, as it puts a smile on your face as worlds (of tile) tumble. No matter that it’s a subtle promotion for a fascinating young woman, finding purpose for her talents in a commerce-driven world, because her accomplishments mark a poignant measure of success. Director Jeremy Workman offers an appealing look at Lily Hevesh a.k.a. Hevesh5, an extraordinary (now 22-year-old) domino artist who creates entrancing, temporary structures comprised of plastic dominos, wood blocks, and other bric-a-brac. No matter that they’re all constructed — for the most part — to be deconstructed in a wonderful array of cascading rhythms.
The filmmaker has offered such pleasing individual-based works as The World Before Your Feet (2018), about the tireless Matt Green and his 8,000-mile journey walking every New York City street, an extended visit with artist/Barbie doll collector Al Carbee in Magical Universe (2014), and his first film, 1996’s Who Is Henry Jaglom?, a short look at the quirky actor-director-playwright-auteur of low-budget cinema.
So, it’s only natural that Workman would be attracted to his latest subject. The light documentary result, which you can catch this in theaters and on the Discovery+ streaming platform, creates an affectionate portrait of a young artist. As an empowerment vehicle, the film showcases the heights that Lily has climbed in a field dominated by boys and men. She has fans among her peers, with celebrities (Will Smith! Katy Perry!), and with those who have barely started a fascination with the hobby. Having dominoted (ha!) her competitors since taking up her first tile when she was 9, her rise as the world’s most acclaimed toppler was disguised for years behind the cloak of her nom-de-plume, which hid the fact she was a girl — and everyone else wasn’t. Her online videos grew in popularity and her millions of followers rejoiced with each new adventure. And kids adore her.
As for Workman, he trailed Lily for 3 years as her celebrity rose. When she’s not travelling to Paris or other foreign lands, she’s exploring new American locations outside of her small town upbringing. A small chunk of the brisk 90-minute covers the planning of an extended domino arrangement for Jimmy Fallon’s The Late Show. Using 4 builders over three days, the Rube Goldberg-style result, using over 25,000 dominoes, is a massive setup commemorated the 20,000,000th subscriber to the host’s YouTube channel. While the film’s coverage examines the behind-the-scenes preparation, the actual broadcast segment can be watched on its own at Lily’s popular website (hevesh5.com).
Workman’s fly on the wall approach catches Lily starting college, and then dropping out, as fame and presumably fortune beckon. Or, heck, she’s just got so many things to do.
While her world of dominoes fill most of the film, there’s extensive backstory about her family. Born in China and abandoned there because of that country’s One Child policy, a very supportive New Hampshire couple adopt and nurture her. Early years as a shy child eventually find her molting into a humble, self-assured young woman, one that knows how to control her world of YouTube and beyond.
As for her spot in the toy world, I’m not going to fault her for her attention to detail in designing premium “H5 Domino Creations” tiles. During a pre-production meeting with manufacturer Spin Master, she’s concerned about soft edges and other precision details, and the toy maker’s executives are furiously taking notes to make sure their new star is happy with the results. It’s either gonna be her way, or no way.
Thankfully, Workman includes a few unintentional mistakes, when some lengthy build ups collapse during construction. It’s taken in good stride — not everything works the way it should. Sometimes her art tumbles awry, but, seconds later, there’s an awesome spiral piece or a city tumbling to smiles and applause.
Overflowing with optimism, Lily Topples the World is a lovely little crowd pleaser, devoid of drama but filled with captivating artistry. For those of you with young kids that are looking for something different, catch the film and start building.
Elias Savada is a movie copyright researcher, critic, craft beer geek, and avid genealogist based in Bethesda, Maryland. He helps program the Spooky Movie International Movie Film Festival, and previously reviewed for Film Threat and Nitrate Online. He is an executive producer of the horror film German Angst and the documentary Nuts! He co-authored, with David J. Skal, Dark Carnival: the Secret World of Tod Browning (a revised edition will be published by Centipede Press).