Monday, September 3, 2012

Craigslist Joe Conveys A Little Courage

While it isn't the most memorable documentary out this year, Craigslist Joe follows a surprisingly heartfelt and moving 31-day journey across the United States. Los Angeles film producer Joe Garner doesn't take any cash or credit cards to do it. He doesn't have much more than a backpack, phone, laptop, and Craigslist connection.

For one full month, he intends to survive on the generosity of others by placing or replying to postings on the popular classified ads site for food, shelter, travel accommodations, temporary jobs, and gatherings where he might meet people. While it has none of the bite of, let's say, On The Road with Jack Kerouac, it does feel like a rated G version of the classic novel for a new generation at times.

Craigslist Joe is one part courage, one part compassion, and one part human connection.

It's Garner's fascination with everyday people that he meets along the way, much like Kerouac connected with people he met while taking a detour into Mexico, that becomes the mortar for the movie. He also possesses a Middle America sensibility, softness, and naivety that makes it an engaging perspective about the people he meets and never about himself.

While Kerouac packed a notepad and frequently attracted trouble, Garner travels with a cameraman and does his best to steer toward safety. Sure, cameraman Kevin Flint likely provided some additional security and influenced the conversations and connections that some people made. And yet, there isn't any doubt that Garner put himself out there.

If anyone is unconvinced that he a few sleepless nights and days with minimal food didn't take it's toll, all they need to do is compare images of Garner before he left and upon his return. That will put those thoughts to rest. Not everything goes his way in the movie. And even on day one, there is panic in Garner's face.

The invisible community that makes up Craigslist are real people.

Although Garner himself doesn't make many intellectual observations, the people he meets are strong enough to present the thin but wholesome story. People still have the capacity to surprise. The second person said Garner would quit in two or three weeks, but he also gave him a place to stay for the night.

The journey might start in Los Angeles, but it doesn't stay there. Garner mostly takes to the road, traveling with people with places to go but not wanting to drive alone. If anything, it's the stops he makes while looping the United States that puts him at more risk to be left out on the streets.

When all else fails, Garner takes to attending events posted on Craigslist as a means to meet people who might lend a floor to crash on. One night an ex-professor and veteran might suggest his spare room; the next night he might sleep on the floor of a musician who is one step from homelessness himself.

In other cities, it is a mixed bag. In Portland, he meets a shop owner looking to consign arts and crafts in a new age store willing to let him stay in an unfurnished house. While staying there, he volunteers at an after-school tutoring program for refugees run by a young Iraqi immigrant.

In Chicago, he and the driver who offered a ride from Washington to Vermont hook up with a dominatrix. She puts them up and buys them pizza. While in New York, he volunteers at a soup kitchen, coordinates a volunteer support group, and meets a hoarder who needs help making space.

The hoarder is one of the most memorable people in the film. When Garner arrives, he finds out the one-time character actress was diagnosed with cancer five years ago. A point of pride is delivering a line in Home Alone 2. It is while he is there that Garner is invited by the owner of Craigslist to meet in San Francisco, prompting him to catch rides from New York to Florida to New Orleans to San Francisco.

Craigslist Joe By Joe Garner Packs Up 4.2 On The Liquid Hip Richter Scale. 

Although the documentary has received some media attention, reviewers have mostly dismissed it for what it could have been. Most felt the concept may have been stronger than the film. Maybe. Maybe not. While wholesomeness keeps Garner away from anything too seedy or dangerous, he experiences helplessness more than once — both for himself and for others.

This film won't likely be as life-changing for viewers as it obviously was for Garner, but it is still nice to know that people are more caring than many would have you believe. Craigslist Joe is available to rent on Amazon. You can also find Craigslist Joe on iTunes. Several of the nonprofit venues that Garner helped are listed on the movie's website.
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