Monday, December 30, 2013

An Engaging Experience, Craigslist Joe Explores America Well!

The Good: Tells a good story, Interesting cultural experiment
The Bad: Misses some chunks of time, Invasive soundtrack, Lack of a convincing or demonstrative theme.
The Basics: Joey Garner is a decent journey movie that explores America today through the eyes of a man who tries to survive for an entire month only on generosity found through Craigslist users.

There seem to be two main types of documentaries: those that purely document an event or idea and those that have an agenda. Craigslist Joe is one of the former. The idea behind Craigslist Joe is a very direct one and it seemed audacious when the film began. Filmmaker Joseph Garner (Joey), wants to see if technology has made people more isolated from one another. To explore that idea, he decides to use the social networking site Craigslist to try to live for a month.

Having no idea where the Internet will take him, Joey grabs his passport, a backpack, a new cell phone and e-mail address and logs onto Craigslist in Los Angeles. Joey starts off simply trying to get food, places to sleep and rides on Craigslist and he sees where it will take him. By day eight, he is in Portland, Oregon, with the bicycle given to him by a Craigslist user. Joey heads north to Seattle where he helps tutor some children at a community center and spends an evening with an Iraqi family. On Day 13, Joey heads toward Vermont and along the way he stops in Chicago for some free break dancing lessons.

Joey’s journey continues to New York City. On Day 20/1 Joey ends up in New York City on the streets. It is one of the few nights he almost finds himself homeless. He does volunteer work in New York City and even organizes some volunteer efforts around Christmastime. Eager to share his experiences with the founder of Craigslist, he gets an appointment for the end of the year in San Francisco with the founder. Trying to get to Craigslist over the course of ten days, Joey heads south where he finds himself in Tallahassee, New Orleans, Juarez (Mexico), and ultimately back to California for his meeting and home.

Joey’s journey is interesting to watch, but Craigslist Joe has no real rewatchability to it. The journey lacks a resounding or convincing theme. Joey tries to convince the viewer (and the founder of Craigslist and his own family) that the experience has taught him that people are fundamentally good. But there are several points in the film where there is the feeling that the subjects of the movie are acting charitably because they know they are on camera (not to mention a few moments when people mention in passing they have space and Joey leaps on it as if the space was offered to him).

Some of the people Joey meets stand out – like a dominatrix, an Iraqi and a Jewish family – but many get Joey into situations that are uncomfortable and Joey and his cameraman are stranded in places with little in the way of resources or hope. Could a person replicate Craigslist Joe without a film crew and not end up killed, raped, beaten or robbed? Probably not; Craigslist’s users seem to be smart enough to realize there would be ways to be tracked with their e-mail address and appearing on camera. As a result, Joseph Garner spends only one night homeless and does not get mugged, taken advantage or otherwise suffer (though he loses considerable weight over the course of his month on the road).

As a result, Craigslist Joe has a feel-good quality to it, but little resounding or lasting merit. It chronicles one person’s journey, though that journey is very dated and is hardly universal. This was an interesting academic exercise to witness, but not an extraordinary one for experiencing over and over again.

For other documentaries, please check out my reviews of:
Jedi Junkies
Trek Nation
Great White Odyssey


For other film reviews, please visit my Movie Review Index Page for an organized listing!

© 2013 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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