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No Impact Man  

No Impact Man
B-
 

“No toilet paper? Man!”

-Richard Roeper

No Impact Man  Review

No Impact Man

Summary: Follow the Manhattan-based Beavan family as they abandon their high consumption 5th Avenue lifestyle and try to live a year while making no net environmental impact.

Genre:
Documentary

Director:
Laura Gabbert, Justin Schein

Cast:
Colin Beavan, Michelle Conlin

Imagine going a year without toilet paper, TV, coffee, a refrigerator and many other creature comforts we take for granted. Even convicts in prison don't have to give up all that.

A couple of years ago, guilty-liberal Manhattanite author Colin Beavan, wife Michele, their 2-year-old daughter and even their dog embarked on a yearlong crusade to drastically reduce their carbon footprints (and paw prints). It was Beavan's idea. His wife, a Starbucks-addicted writer for Business Week, reluctantly went along with it. I'm pretty sure the toddler and the dog weren't consulted on the decision.

Beavan was deeply concerned about the environment. He was also keenly interested in getting a book and movie deal. The result is "No Impact Man," a breezy, funny and informative reality show/documentary that chronicles the Beavan family's adventures as they go "off the grid" for an entire year.

No car. No subway. No elevators. No TV, no taxis, no air conditioning, no newspapers or magazines, no shopping for new clothes, no refrigerator, no disposable diapers, no food that wasn't produced within 250 miles of their home, no coffee, no toilet paper -- and a worm-filled compost box in the kitchen.

It's like "Jon and Kate Reacclimate."

Beavan is an earnest and likable sort who throws himself into the experiment, cheerfully riding his bike around Manhattan, whipping up healthful meals in the kitchen, inviting their friends over for candle-lit games of charades, and shamelessly promoting his project on "The Colbert Report," "Good Morning America" and other media outlets. (At times, Beavan's attitude grates. When he pedals his glorified tricycle onto a talk-show set for yet another media appearance, you can't help rolling your eyes at his look-at-me sanctimony.)

His wisecracking, cynical wife is a welcome counterpart to the mix, as she pleads with her husband to let her fall off the no-coffee wagon, bitches about some of the more ridiculous sacrifices they're making and pines for the days of restaurants and designer clothes. (Michele, clock ticking, would also like a second child, but Colin is adamantly opposed, though he says in classic passive-aggressive fashion, "I want to want what you want." The soap opera surrounding that debate takes the story on an unexpected and moving detour.)

"No Impact Man" remains consistently entertaining because directors Laura Gabbert and Justin Schein keep the focus on the Beavan's family triumphs and setbacks instead of pounding us over the head with statistics and charts. A visit to the Bronx, where the trash heaps are like mountain ranges and some 12,000 diesel trucks rumble through every day, plus shots of congested traffic and the piles of trash bags in Manhattan -- that's enough to drive home the point that we are an incredibly wasteful society.

Nor do the filmmakers shy away from the criticism that the Beavans received. Some environmentalists ripped them, saying they were providing easy fodder for critics. A New York Times article noted the Beavans were living in a very nice building on lower Fifth Avenue, and the experiment "may seem at best like a scene from an old-fashioned situation comedy, and, at worst, an ethically murky exercise in self-promotion."

Then again, didn't Thoreau go to Walden Pond with a book in mind? And wasn't that pond a mere mile and a half from his home?

As someone who recently wrote a book (and is eyeing a reality TV show) based on a stunt of gambling every day for 30 straight days, I'm not about to criticize Beavan for coming up with a media-friendly idea -- especially one that required him to make real sacrifices for an entire year. Sorry, but if you go 12 months with no toilet paper, a diet dominated by root vegetables, no TV, etc., etc., you deserve a book deal and a documentary. And he does make some unassailable points about the way we live today.

There's even a feature film version of "No Impact Man" in the works, with Will Smith as the possible lead. Coming one day to 5,000 air-conditioned theaters! Ahem.

If it happens, maybe then we can ask Will to ditch the limo and take a bicycle to the set every day.
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Jon said on Sunday, August 10, 2014 6:50:50 PM
Why go without toilet paper? To sensationalize the show and garner viewers. I can see no other reason. They were still wasting water flushing instead of using a composting toilet.

"You don't need to research, just do," he said. Gee, so I should try to build an atomic bomb, just to do it? Honestly.

And have your wife go off the pill and end up pregnant at 40? Irresponsible.

Some of the things were good. I have a worm box on my balcony. Exercise and eating better helps everyone. I think about going off the grid one day. The real thing, not just turning off the breaker box. Most of the things the presenter said were catch phrases, not real information, and grated.

Most people living off the grid do it permanently. If a person is going to do it, do it right. Do the research. Don’t just film an experiment to get publicity and promote yourself.

Joanna said on Wednesday, August 15, 2012 5:59:59 PM
To Nathan and other detractors- that sort of aiutttde really bothers me. SOMETHING is better than nothing. So if city people take steps to do what they can given where they live, why criticize?? Everyone can't move to the country. These people aren't saying everyone should move to NYC (or the folks on here to SF) so they can live like them, they're not saying they think they're better than anyone else (in fact their admissions of how hard this is and their guilty pleasures reveal this)- they're just sharing some green ideas they are trying out. I don't know why you and many other readers who posted negative comments on the NY Times site are so defensive. As if their actions are a dig against you? Everyone should try and do as many little things as they can, some may give 100% others 2%. While I think NO Impact man and his label-loving wife won't stick to all of them forever, it's great that they're exploring, and if half or even just 1/4 the new ways stick after their year, that's progress in the name of something positive.And what is so bad about a book?! If only people would read more these days...

 
 
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