Note: an edited version of this review was recently published on Devtome.
Craigslist Joe (2012)
This is a fun and uplifting documentary about the experiences of Joe Garner, who spend a whole month traveling the country without any money -relying entirely on Craigslist postings for rides and shelter.
If the point of this movie is to prove that anything is possible (in a good way) on Craigslist, or in the contemporary U.S., then it doesn’t quite live up to its goal. On the other hand, it’s still quite entertaining and rather inspiring to watch Joe on his journey, which is a kind of modern day vision quest.
As much as I enjoyed Craigslist Joe, I couldn’t forget the presence of the camera. Although we never see or hear the cameraman, his existence takes away some of the documentary’s credibility. While it would be difficult to make a documentary (or any film) without a camera, in this case it creates a never addressed artificiality, as everyone interacts with Joe as if he was alone when we know that he isn’t.
In quantum physics, there is something called the Observer Effect, where the mere presence of an observer effects the outcome of an experiment. The same is often true with documentaries. We are never entirely sure if the people who welcome Joe into their home so freely would have done so without his cover story that he was making a movie.
This is a relevant point, as he discusses early on about his need to discover if people have become disconnected in today’s high tech world. Yet, people today are also media obsessed and often willing to do almost anything to be filmed. Additionally, the camera also establishes Joe as a respectable member of society, rather than another (potentially dangerous) individual living on the fringes.
Additionally, Garner is not just a random person making a low budget indie film. He has quite a bit of Hollywood experience. See: IMDb Joseph Garner. Zach Galifianakis is actually listed as the film’s executive producer. So, like many documentaries, Craigslist Joe may not be exactly what it appears at first.
Despite all of that, however, Craigslist Joe still manages to succeed at showing how connections can be quickly fostered on the road. While Joe might be a little overdramatic at times (as he makes clear, he has a comfortable life and family to help him if he really needs it), he still manages to touch the hearts of many of the people he meets along the way.
What I liked best about Craigslist Joe is that it’s a road movie that’s a celebration of spontaneity and breaking free of deeply ingrained assumptions.