Lily Topples the World is a visually spectacular documentary, one with the added benefit of ready cleverness in supply.
Joining the ranks of Netflix’s We Are The Champions and The Speed Cubers, Lily Topples The World takes a peek behind the curtain of the world of domino-toppling, an art form that is part engineering, part design, and part patience. The documentary, directed by Jeremy Workman, follows Lily Hevesh, the world’s foremost toppler and one of very few women in the field, at the height of her career, with millions of YouTube subscribers, high-profile collaborations, and her own range of high-quality toppling dominoes on the verge of release.
Perhaps the film’s greatest strength is that it gives its audience exactly what they likely want from a documentary about domino art. The film’s sheer visual spectacle is facilitated by Hevesh’s obviously stunning creations, but Workman’s fluid camera work and birds-eye shots emphasize just how painstakingly intricate and precise his subject’s work is in a way that might be glossed over were it only seen in finished form. On the flip side, Workman’s inclusion of a gut-wrenching moment in which a monumental domino structure topples in an instant, crashing down around Hevesh and her colleagues, satisfies our primal, undeniable urge to knock it all down and effectively emphasizes the stakes of her successful creations. Along with teaching a few domino tricks and showing off the engineering prowess of professional topplers along the way, Workman provides delightfully thorough insight into a niche artform that, apart from perhaps viral videos strewn across social media, most viewers might not even know existed.
Despite its title, Lily Topples The World isn’t overly concerned with competition or pitting Hevesh against such grand nemesis. While it does engage with the racism and sexism she faces as an Asian woman at the top of her field, the film refuses to submit to this as her entire story (perhaps due in part to actress Kelly Marie Tran’s role as an executive producer and her truly awful experiences of both). Instead, not only does the film belie the sort of relaxed confidence that Hevesh embodies at the top of her field, but it also celebrates a spirit of fraternity and all of the people who uplift and help her. In a clever touch, every public figure who appears in the documentary, from Will Smith to John Green, is presented only in the context of their YouTube subscriber count, offering both some loaded insight on celebrity in the internet age, but also emphasizing the commonalities that these different artists and performers share. In depicting the tight-knit community of collaborators and artists that surround Hevesh, Workman presents both a world and a woman that are completely uninterested in conquering — only in toppling.
You can stream Jeremy Workman’s Lily Topples the World on Discovery+ beginning on August 26.
Originally published as part of SXSW Film Festival 2021 — Dispatch 4.