There is a growing belief that our lifestyle of pervasive technology is alienating us more than connecting us these days, the old Ted Kaczynski theory. In Craigslist Joe, 29-year-old Joseph Garner wants to test this theory and decides to go out into the world, armed with only his laptop, a cell phone (with no current contacts programmed in), his toothbrush and the clothes on his back, to see if he can survive through contacts made on Craigslist alone for 31 days.
is another one of these Gonzo documentaries which have been increasing in popularity since 2004’s Super Size Me—another filmic experiment driven by the propagation of easy filming and a seeming boredom with everyday life. The success of these kinds of films are in part reliant upon their protagonist, the gentleman (or lady) driving the story. Super Size Me wouldn’t have been half as fun without the easy charisma of Morgan Spurlock.
The other half of the equation, of course, is the subject of the film. Whether it’s the effect of fast food on our nation or the effect of our deeply ingrained national religious past, a documentary has got to be about something interesting: something we can all relate to and something we all get.
In neither of these scenarios does Craigslist Joe succeed.
Joseph Garner, let’s call him Joe from here on out, while seeming like a very nice guy, is not particularly charismatic or engaging. He moves from situation to situation with the charm and ease of an octogenarian politician. He struggles to make connections with people, often lingering on the outskirts of conversations and making forced observations. The most awkward of his moments are the two occasions where he is “deeply affected” by his experience. It simply feels like the filmmakers felt the movie needed these “heartfelt” moments to hang their hat on, and so he had to perform them.
This leaves the subject of the film. The premise is tantalizing for sure, and initially, it seems like Craigslist Joe could hold dramatic interest, but ultimately the film drowns under its own lack of focus. The first day that Joe is out on his own, he struggles to find something to eat and a place to stay just using Craigslist. The sun is setting. There is some dramatic tension. What’s going to happen to our hero? It’s December, the middle of winter, will he be okay? It’s not spoiling much to say that this is about as tense as it gets.
After that first night, the film documents two different kinds of activities Joe does: finding a place to stay/something to eat, and “for fun” activities.
The first kind of activity leads audiences on an interesting journey. It is fascinating to see Joe, using only Craigslist, travel across the length and width of the United States by way of ride shares. There’s a curious cast of characters that Joe spends time with, many of which are lost themselves, slightly off, and often eccentric to a fault. At one point, he stays with an Iraqi family and talks politics. The conversation verges on interesting, but then veers into the land of saccharine predictability when Joe declares how beautiful they are and how they’re just like everyone else.
Other notable characters range from a washed-up New York actress who lives in a messy hovel and is fighting cancer, to a “human jukebox” in New Orleans, to a very generous New Age couple in Seattle. The one thing all of these characters seem to have in common is that they’re all a little off, which leads one to wonder about the kinds of people one meets on Craigslist.
Not everyone Joe meets is crazy, though. There is the aforementioned Iraqi family and a few nice young kids who he travels with, but conversely, these people are largely forgettable.
The other kind of things Joe does, funding fun activities, are glossed over and generally feel like filler, not adding much to the heft of the film.
Overall, while Craigslist Joe is a cute film with a good heart, it is overall too meandering in its narrative to be at all effective or meaningful. Joe himself seems very sweet, but he’s not enough to carry the emotional heft of what the film attempts to convey. While it was attempting to be inspiring in showing the golden heart of the American people, Craigslist Joe succeeds more in inspiring simple wanderlust in the heart of the viewer.
Craigslist Joe is now playing at Laemmle Music Hall. It is also available on iTunes, On Demand, Amazon Video, Blockbuster On Demand, CinemaNow, PlayStation, Vudu, Xbox and Zune.
For more information, visit the film’s official website.