No Impact Man
Running time 90 minutes
Directed by Laura Gabbert and Justin Schein
Starring Colin Beavan and Michelle Conlin
I thought for sure that No Impact Man was going to drive me nuts. After all, the concept—New York City–based writer Colin Beavan tries to live a year without any environmental impact, meaning no electricity, no trash, no automotive transportation—is just the kind of thing that screams, “I’m doing a stunt and writing a blog that will eventually be a book.” (And … it is.) And on top of that, isn’t it sort of irritating for a couple with a nice apartment and a young child and with a clearly decent income to willingly give up not just television and takeout, but diapers and refrigerators, too, not to mention opting to eat local-only food from the Greenmarket in Union Square (in itself code orange for Stuff White People Like)? Also, why are laptops and BlackBerrys still a-okay?
Well, the good news is that the film itself never once tries to back away from the fact that The No Impact project drew a lot of ire from the outset (“They’re calling us bourgeois fucks,” Mr. Beavan’s wife sighs at a certain point). What saves this film from being hopelessly preachy or overly self-righteous are the subjects themselves. Mr. Beavan, it becomes clear, is a true believer, and throughout the year of doing without, he suffers enough self-doubt about what he’s embarked upon to make you realize that his project came from a good and not mercenary place. His wife, Michelle, a self-professed reality-show junkie who loves to shop (the opening of the film allows us to see a credit-card statement, which boasts a charge for a $900-plus pair of boots) and is flat-out addicted to caffeine, is reasonably wary but determined to be supportive (even after her husband convinces her that they can reuse cloths to wipe themselves instead of toilet paper, which would have sent most people, including yours truly, running for the door). The family has its struggles, certainly, but even more than a statement about the environment, No Impact Man offers a thoughtful narrative on the compromises of marriage and how this particular couple found a way to meet in the middle. And that’s not annoying at all.