Dir. Jeremy Workman, USA, 2021, 91 min.
Screening virtually and at Marketplace Drive-In on Friday, May 14 @ 8:30 p.m. Learn more here.
And just like that, it’s over.
The hours, days and sometimes weeks of planning, stacking and building, comes to a fall in mere seconds. The grace of one plink! of plastic hitting the other, the inertia of the first tap, trickling, creating a wave of motion accompanied by piano tracks. It’s really a miracle that they topple the way they’re supposed to.
Domino-building is a niche sort of art in which the final product can’t be realized until the very end, after that first piece is toppled and everyone holds their breath and prays all the pieces fall, literally, into place; it takes kind of a leap of faith. In his documentary, Lily Topples the World, Director Jeremy Workman beautifully captures the ethereal art of domino-building by following the rise of Lily Hevesh, a young domino artist, one of the most famous and successful in the world. Quiet and deliberate, yet warm and humble, Hevesh makes the perfect heroine for this seemingly random hobby as Workman captures her journey as a YouTuber to the launch of her own line of dominos. And while the film expertly captures the minute details that go into creating large-scale domino sculptures — the planning process, the counting, the math, the physics of it all — Lily Topples the World is also a poignant coming-of-age tale in which viewers get to know Hevesh’s identity and personality as a girl who is just carving out her place in the world. A Chinese-American adoptee, the film asks hard questions of Hevesh about her link to her Chinese heritage as well as what it’s like to be the only female domino-builder at a world-class level.
“I didn’t know how to be me because I didn’t know who I was,” Hevesh says at one point in the film. Like many other kids her age, she describes the loneliness of going through middle and high school and feeling out of place. Now 19 years old in the film, Hevesh says she’s much more confident in who she is.
“This Lily is much happier,” she says, smiling.
Along the way, snapshots of her working with stars such as Will Smith and Jimmy Fallon make their way into the plot, but the most successful parts of the film are quiet. Scenes where Hevesh works alone, hour after hour, domino after domino, building her masterpieces are what will grab viewers and make it so it’s nearly impossible for them to not root for her when the final push comes to shove.
“With dominos, if you have an idea, it’s likely that you can do it,” Hevesh explains.
And so, she does.