Title: Craigslist Joe
Director: Joseph Garner
A generally agreeable but perhaps hopelessly meandering documentary snapshot of one young guy’s attempt to hit the road for 31 days and live off the alms of America’s new, digital age thrift store, “Craigslist Joe” isn’t the first nonfiction film to throw a light on the namesake popular classified advertising website, but it is the first to arrive with the imprimatur of executive producer Zach Galifianakis.
Departing Los Angeles with only $200, his laptop and bookbag, a cellphone, tooth brush and the clothes on his back (oh, and a cameraman — whom he of course met on Craigslist), Garner relies on listings — both his own, and those already on the site — for food, shelter and transportation. Via a couple ride-shares, he heads north, to Portland and Seattle, and then finally east, along the way trolling Craigslisted free events (charity gatherings, open-mic nights, breakdancing classes, Hanukkah celebrations) where he can mingle and grab a bit of warmth. In addition to the healthy handful of free-minded wanderers one might expect, “Craigslist Joe”‘s more memorable characters include a young Chicago dominatrix and a family of Iranian-American immigrants. Later, in New York City, Garner meets a troubled, cancer-stricken former actress turned hoarder. In New Orleans, he befriends a guy trying to rebuild homes in the Lower Ninth Ward in a more artistic fashion.
Garner — who hatched the idea for his feature film debut while serving as an assistant to Todd Phillips on “The Hangover,” with whom he has since graduated to shared associate producer credits on various projects — is a pleasant and engaging enough guide for this trip. And as a travelogue litmus test of human kindness, “Craigslist Joe” is satisfying entertainment, on a surface level. It warms the heart a bit, and certainly proves to be an emotional and enlightening experience for Garner. So watching him achieve some emotional fulfillment and growth emits small pulses of positive energy.
But even on just a personal/psychological level the movie lacks a strong enough thesis, definition and stakes, and could benefit enormously from more direct-address confessionals. It doesn’t necessarily need the personality infusion of a chattering Morgan Spurlock, but “Craigslist Joe” does cry out for more of a sense of Garner’s state of mind during his actual travels. The characters are of course sometimes interesting, but the revolving-door indulgence of their anthropological curiosity over Garner reaches a point of diminishing return. In terms of pure slice-of-life quirkiness, melancholy and Americana, Austin Lynch (David Lynch’s son) and his friends achieved more with “Interview Project,” a striking series of three-minute shorts they produced traveling across the country.
Even what should ostensibly be the emotional climax of Garner’s documentary — meeting up with Craigslist founder Craig Newmark in San Francisco to tell him about his journey, and then finally returning home — feels muted, and kind of winged and improvised. “Craigslist Joe” isn’t bad, and will in fact prove quite enjoyable to those utterly bewitched by its mere conceit. But one can’t help but feel that it’s also a case of a concept not quite completely cracked — a tech-age experiment entered into with more feeling than thought.
NOTE: In addition to its theatrical engagements, “Craigslist Joe” is also available on VOD. For more information on the movie, visit www.CraigslistJoe.com.
Written by: Brent Simon