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LILY TOPPLES THE WORLD - FILM REVIEW

By Alyssa Stormes, May 23rd, 2021


Search for @hevesh5 on YouTube and you’ll discover the lead subject of the recent SXSW-winning documentary Lily Topples the World, Lily Hevesh, the world’s leading domino artist.


With over a billion views on YouTube, Lily found online fame at a young age by creating videos of toppling her elaborate domino setups. The documentary explores her childhood, behind the scenes of notable collaborations (highlights include the Washington Lottery and The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon), and the difficult decision to follow her career in exchange of leaving her first group of real friends behind.


The film kind of opens twice; the actual opening section of the film are short cuts of Lily’s friends describing what they knew about Lily before meeting her. This quirky introduction to Lily’s personality builds a shy, soft persona that is quickly juxtaposed against a chaotic and entrancing montage of Lily’s top-rated videos. Seeing so many domino designs topple one after the other is breathtaking, like motion GIFs that have transcended to an analog world. A complex concoction of engineering, timing, and patience, each build can take as much as several days to complete. Designs cover a wide range of architectural tricks and structures that when knocked over magically reveal abstract artworks, moving words, and enchanting shapes that weave and interact like they are alive.


The actual art of domino building and watching Lily in her element is more than enough to delight the masses. She works with a variety of different builds in both circumstance and difficulty, and shares her knowledge with children and adults from all backgrounds, from a young super fan to Ernő Rubik, the creator of the Rubik’s Cube. The business side of Lily's passion is filled with meeting a variety of toy creators to fulfill her long-term goal of creating her own domino line, along with navigating a career field that doesn't even exist yet.


Where the film succeeds in wonder it fails at providing a structured commentary on the struggles and subtext that periodically dot the non-linear narrative. These snippets of subtext swiftly enter and exit the film, providing only enough info to warrant exposition, but never enough to assert a definitive point of view. It attempts to tackle the lack of women in STEM jobs, capture the transition into young adulthood, and explores the influence of video formats on children growing up today. Each of these subjects needed more screen time to be fully developed within the context of Lily’s life, and instead feel like attempts at providing an opinion when what we’re actually given are just facts.


The cinematography also falls a little short - the majority of the footage we see of the dominoes falling comes from YouTube videos, Lily’s personal documentation, or final products of brand collaborations. Video and filmmaking is common thread throughout the film, including scenes of Lily instructing videographers on the toppling path and best practices on filming dominoes. With the exception of behind-the-scenes footage, a good majority of what we see can also be found online. With all the interviews with Lily’s friends and herself expressing their passion for filmmaking and video creation, I was yearning for more creative explorations into how we document this holistic art form that merges tactile, auditory, and visual elements.


All in all, this film is a must see for anyone who has a passion for something that feels too unique to be understood. Lily delivers a powerful message to creators of all ages to embrace the things you love, because you never know where it will lead.


HOW TO WATCH: Minneapolis St. Paul International Film Festival 'Best of Fest' through May 27, 2021. Buy tickets to stream Lily Topples the World through MSP Film Society.


On-Demand streaming on Discovery+, slated to release this summer.

 

About the Author: Alyssa Stormes is a visual storyteller and filmmaker with a B.A. in Film from the University of Iowa. She currently owns a screen production and design studio in South Minneapolis. Learn more about her work an her website.


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