Going off the grid.
DIRECTED BY JOSEPH GARNER
Joseph Garner is an idealistic guy. A Los Angeles–based twentysomething producer who worked on The Hangover Part II, he vowed last December to give up the trappings of modern life for 31 days, surrendering all but his MacBook and camera. He would rely only on whatever creature comforts strangers offered him through Craigslist, the one social thread he would deliberately leave hanging.
Craigslist Joe is an amiable record of Garner’s cross-country Craigslist journey—though the concept never quite comes together, and its inherent narcissism isn’t always pretty to watch. The filmmaker spends the first few minutes trying to preempt such criticisms with a montage set to the inspiring guitar strums of Explosions in the Sky, wherein he lays out his big idea: using technology to connect with others rather than staying caught up in his own life. Fair enough, but Craigslist is an arbitrary choice of medium, just as strangers are an odd beneficiary of this redemptive embrace of humanity. Garner might just as well have saved the bear hugs for his own family.
Even so, much of Garner’s journey is characterized by an appealing warmth, and even the most churlish of viewers are likely to be moved on some level by his encounter with a family of Iraqi refugees, stigmatized after 9/11. Still, that episode plants a troubling thought that probably never crossed Garner’s mind: what kind of magnanimous reaction would a Craigslist-roaming nonwhite family trigger from the strangers who we see casually endorsing his own vacation from privilege? It’s telling that Garner never thinks, in the few rough times he goes through here, to turn his camera on the hardship of his Craigslist-acquired camera operator, Kevin. Try as he might to make this pet project a manifesto about American kindness, at its most basic level, this is little more than a generous self-portrait.