No Impact Man

By Matt Prigge
Add Comment Add Comment | Comments: 0 | Posted Sep. 22, 2009

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Embracing the blog-cum-book-cum-documentary stunt undertaken by Colin Beavan in No Impact Man means ignoring a mountain of inconsistencies. Beginning with that title: Beavan, rather than forge alone, dragged both his wife—amusingly reluctant but still very game BusinessWeek journo Michelle Conlin—and young daughter on his quest to spend a year leaving no carbon footprint.

That means no trash, no electricity, no non-local foods whatsoever, no way, no how. Except when you really can’t get around it. Which is pretty often, frankly. After all, how are you going to keep the webosphere abreast of your day-to-day happenings without some burned electricity? Or maintain that swank Manhattan apartment without going to that air-conditioned, artificially lit office?

And while the Beavans make sure to ask their friendly farmer’s marketers to keep any plastic wrapping from their foodstuffs, isn’t there a strong chance said plastic will be pitched in a trashcan anyway? They don’t even dare go fully electricity-free till the spring, wisely keeping the juice on so they don’t absolutely freeze during those bitter Northeast Coast winters.

We could go on with this, except for the fact that the film cops to these inconsistencies, too. Beavan, who radiates a vaguely dazed and borderline naive mien, isn’t only about a hook, otherwise he would be trying to play Thoreau in the boondocks and not in the country’s most spectacular metropolis. Unlike Morgan Spurlock he’s not trying to restate an obvious fact (e.g., McDonald’s is unhealthy), but instead he’s genuinely playing human guinea pig with the idea of living his swanky Manhattan life he lives now stripped of all the usual comfort. No TV, no restaurants, no reusable diapers. Clothes are washed in the bathtub. Shampoo is created from scratch. Dude even turns a cabinet drawer into a worm compost (though he has less success with a homemade refrigerator).

Following, verité-style, are documentarians Laura Gabbert and Justin Schein, who are careful not to just make a Kool-Aid-
swilling paean; they even include a farmer speaking out against organic foods. (No chemicals = no antibiotics = animals left to suffer and die.) As they film, Beavan & co. wrestle not just with finishing their mission but with the ideals of the mission itself: is it just a stunt? Will audiences take the right lessons and become proactive and eco-aware? At the very least the people on-screen—the least douchey stunt doc subjects ever—offer a good example. B-

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