In December 2008, twenty-something Joe Garner left the comforts of home behind and embarked on a journey fueled entirely by Craigslist. Carrying only a laptop and a brand new cell phone (and with a cameraman tagging along), he set out to see if he could survive solely by placing and responding to Craigslist ads. He depended on the kindness of strangers for food, shelter, rides and entertainment. Sound interesting? Well, kinda. It really ought to have been more interesting, but there aren’t a whole lot of memorable highlights. Joe meets some nice people, but only a couple stand out as intriguing characters. For me, the most compelling was Fran, a NYC hoarder who is using only holistic methods to treat her cancer. Her speech and mannerisms were very reminiscent of Annie Hall, which made her an entertaining presence as well as an endearing one.
Otherwise, Garner goes down some pleasant but predictably touchy-feely roads. He stays with an Iraqi family and gets choked up about their “spirit”. He goes to New Orleans and gets choked up in the Lower 9th Ward. He comes home and gets choked up talking about the generous folks he met. He’s awfully sincere… except that he seems sorta phony. I couldn’t decide if Garner was a genuinely nice guy or a dude who knew how to come off as a nice guy. Either way, he’s pretty bland, and since he usually doesn’t take the time to really get to know the people he encounters, the film needs him to be a stronger character. Or do more interesting things with his journey. Some of the potentially more intriguing adventures are relegated to very quick scenes, or even stuffed in the middle of a montage.
It’s also worth noting that Joe is an unimposing white male who’s clearly making a movie. Of course people are going to be more willing to open their doors and cars to him. I’m not saying there aren’t kind, generous souls in the world, but the reality is he’d have a tougher time under different circumstances. And maybe that’s what the film needs: a little drama. The hardest thing Joe has to deal with is having someone flake out on him in San Francisco, and he has to sleep for a few hours in an all-night café. The rest of the time it’s pretty smooth sailing. Which provides a nice narrative about how there’s nice folks doing nice things, but it all feels a little fake.
I’m sure Joe Garner probably is a swell fellow, and it’s hard to fault him for making his feelgood portrait about the kind Americans one can find on Craigslist. But the film ultimately comes off as too safe and easy, for what should have been a risky endeavor. Rating: Fair (63)