For the slim first-person documentary Craigslist Joe, director Joseph Garner pursues a Morgan Spurlock-esque conceit: Over 31 days, Garner sets out to arrange his meals, lodging, travel, odd jobs, and activities entirely through connections made on Craigslist. (Even his largely unseen cameraman, Kevin Flint, is a Craigslist acquisition.) The idea is to bring this virtual marketplace out into the real world and get to know some of the people behind the semi-anonymous usernames and postings. Much like Spurlock’s Super Size Me, Craigslist Joe suffers badly from confirmation bias: Just as Spurlock must have known that eating three meals a day at McDonald’s for a month would turn him into a miserable blob, Garner affirms his theory that something like a true community can be patched together out of disparate links.
In many respects, however, Craigslist Joe exists in sharp contrast to Spurlock and Super Size Me, starting with Garner, who’s a much more reticent, humble screen presence, with a genuine interest in listening to other people’s stories. His passivity becomes a serious liability as the film ambles on, however, and his various encounters are folded into a sentimental personal travelogue. Starting in Los Angeles—where he worked as an associate producer on the Hangover sequels and Due Date, jobs that helped earn this movie a “Zach Galifianakis Presents” credit—Garner loops around the entire country, bumming rides from some people who need a second driver and others who are just happy for the companionship. He misses a few meals and goes nearly homeless a couple of nights, but mostly, it’s a succession of encounters with generous eccentrics, ending in hugs and inspirational music. Craigslist Joe takes Garner on a 21st-century hitchhiking trip that not only didn’t end in his gruesome murder, but in a month to remember fondly. It’s an inspiring experience. For him.