Proof that “eco” and “entertainment” aren’t mutually exclusive, “No Impact Man” may be a socially progressive, environmentally conscious film, but it goes down far easier than, say, an all-natural, fiber-enriched peanut butter sandwich without a glass of soy milk. It’s that rare doc (these days) that could go theatrical, largely because it’s a film about a couple, more than a movement. In fact, at the risk of causing domestic discord, this Laura Gabbert-Justin Schein film might have been called “No Impact Woman.”

Michelle Conlin is not the movie’s principal character – that would be her husband, Colin Beavan, whose goal is to spend one year leaving as small a carbon footprint as inhumanely possible. And he’s taking the family with him as he jumps over the crunchy, caffeine-less cliff.

Conlin doesn’t really want to go. Providing the humor and the skepticism, she becomes the audience’s stand-in as Beavan (who’s planning a book on the project) imposes a suddenly Spartan way of life on his daughter and wife — who really likes her Starbucks lattes and taxi cabs. “Daddy does nature,” she tells little Isabella, as their Greenwich Village apartment becomes home to compost eating worms and improvised refrigeration. “Mommy does retail.” When the couple carts all their unnecessary stuff to a thrift store, Conlin wants to buy the Marc Jacob handbag in the window.

But it’s Conlin who becomes the convert to the cause: While Beavan’s book brings his passion into question, Conlin really comes to believe in what they’re doing, despite such deprivations as no electricity, no out-of-season produce and, worst of all, no caffeine. As such, “No Impact Man,” becomes the best kind of propaganda, as well as a very entertaining movie.

Production values are fine, with Schein’s often on-the-fly camerawork a standout.

No Impact Man

  • Production: An Impact Partners presentation of an Eden Wurmfeld/Shadowbox Films/Laura Gabbert Films production. Produced by Gabbert, Wurmfeld. Executive producers, Julia Parker Benello, Diana Barrett, Dan Cogan, Abigail Disney, Barbara Dobkin, Kevin Gruneich, Donna Gruneich, David Menschel, Adriana Mnuchin, Susan Myers, Gib Myers, Sarah Johnson Redlich, Juliette Timsit, Caroleen Feeney. Co-producers, Colin Beavan, Michelle Conlin. Directed by Laura Gabbert, Justin Schein.
  • Crew: Camera (color, HD video), Schein; editors, William Haugse, Matthew Martin; music, Bobby Johnston. Reviewed at the Sundance Film Festival, (Spectrum--Documentary Spotlight), Jan. 16, 2009. Running time: 90 MIN.
  • With: With Colin Beavan, Michele Conlin.