The Austin Chronicle

SXSW Film Review: Lily Topples the World

By Richard Whittaker, March 19, 2021, 4:43pm, Picture in Picture

The perfect SXSW film would be a confluence of unusual art, unconventional technological know-how, and against-the-odds business success. That's why Documentary Feature Grand Jury prize-winner Lily Topples the World, about domino artist Lily Hevesh, may be as perfect as a South By title as possible.

Hevesh is at the top of the domino art world, and those are surprisingly giddy heights. With millions of YouTube followers around the world, she's been featured alongside JImmy Fallon and Casey Neistet, been courted by eager partner businesses at New York Toy Fair and been stopped for autographs at Vidcon. If you only know what half of those words mean, that's part of what makes Lily Topples the World so special. It's not just about an outsider artist who works in a medium whose mechanics are as inscrutable as a a sculptor seeing their next piece in a block of stone, while the end results are just as entrancing. It's a relentlessly optimistic exploration of so many issues that have touched Hevesh's life - adoption, her Asian-American identity, her difficulties making friends at school. It's also an exploration of the new meaning of celebrity, and the rapidly evolving relationship between young people and media: Hevesh became a YouTube celebrity without every being seen on-screen, and now she's the face of a new industry. Every person who appears on-screen has a subscriber count by their name, even if many are barely double-digits - all except her supportive parents, and most importantly her father, who wryly delights in his role as camera operator, general schlepper, and beaming poppa.

Oh, and when the dominos fall. Hevesh's art is like watching slow-motion fireworks unfurl, accompanied by that distinctive tock-tock-tock as one plastic slab falls onto the next. Every creation is a one-shot Rube Goldberg creation, built for destruction.

But there's no sadness at the end of the line, just as there's no silly narrative block placed in Lily's way to build tension. Lily Topples the World doesn't need to add drama where there is none. After all, the act of building and setting off a domino topple The constant tension between a set-up collapsing too soon and not collapsing on time, or in the right way, will leave you on the edge of your seat. The actual collapse is always captivating. Finally, there is the elation of a completed pattern, even if it leads to a lot of clearing up. Yet with each fall, Hevesh rises.

If SXSW decides to bring any title back next year for the return to in-person events, Lily Topples the World should be top of the list, if only for the chance to see Hevesh in action, on the floor of the Austin Convention center. That would be a South By moment that this uplifting and charming film truly deserves.

Lily Topples the World

Documentary Competition

World Premiere

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