Craigslist Joe: Film Review

Craigslist Joe Screenshot - H 2012

Craigslist Joe Screenshot - H 2012

A questionable gimmick leads to touching moments in road-trip documentary.

Filmmaker Joseph Garner finds that Craigslist is good for more than second-hand sofas and "casual encounters."

A stunt-doc whose conceit overlaps with the finding-yourself appeal of a road movie, Joseph Garner's Craigslist Joe is humbly charming and will likely benefit from the barnstorming tour Garner is currently staging, holding one-night screenings across the country to coincide with the pic's Los Angeles run.

Garner, for reasons unexplained here, decided in the wake of 2008's financial crisis to simulate life without a safety net. Becoming voluntarily penniless for a month, he left home with only a laptop and cell phone, determined to survive on whatever kindness-of-strangers he could locate via the Craigslist classifieds. He wound up making a circuit of the country -- from L.A. to  New York and back, with stops including Chicago, Tallahassee and New Orleans -- with the help of many good Samaritans. Toward the end he paused in San Francisco to meet Craig himself -- site founder Craig Newmark, who shares his conviction that people are, contrary to popular belief, "overwhelmingly trustworthy and generous."

This experiment is, of course, limited in some fundamental ways. There's the fact that Garner -- a young, middle-class white man -- is saddled with none of the afflictions that tend to keep people from giving money to strangers or letting them sleep on their couches. He's also being trailed by a cameraman: "We're making a movie" excuses a lot of silly behavior in this world, and one assumes that Garner wouldn't have fared as well without the legitimizing camera.

None of that, though, diminishes the appeal of the friendly characters Garner winds up meeting -- hippies and Iraqi immigrants, artists and a dominatrix -- and the odd situations he gets himself into, like the day he spends helping an emotionally disturbed cancer sufferer who turns out to have played bit parts in films like Home Alone 2.

Some of these encounters are genuinely heartwarming (if less affecting than they are for Garner, who tears up on camera two or three times), and many viewers will relish a chance to vicariously share an adventure they, God willing, will never experience involuntarily.

Production Company: CLJ Films
Director: Joseph Garner
Producers: Eve Marson Singbiel, Joseph Garner
Executive producers: Zach Galifianakis, Uday Sehgal
Director of photography: Kevin Flint
Music: David G. Garner
Editor: Drew Kilcoin
No rating, 90 minutes.