“Craigslist Joe” finds filmmaker-star Joseph Garner pulling a “Super Size Me”-style experiment in search of altruism, spending a month living off free stuff accessed via Craigslist. He gushes that it was “the most inspiring experience of my life.” But he’s a nondescript protagonist, his benefactors, and he’s never truly in need; as is made clear at the start, he has a comfortable life to return to whenever he chooses. So the pic becomes simply the moderately diverting record of an offbeat vacation. Opening in Gotham and Los Angeles, the docu should transition quickly to home formats.We learn nothing about Garner’s life in L.A. (not even that he’s been a producer on several Zach Galifianakis vehicles, as Galifianakis’ own exec-producer credit here hints), only that he has a nice home, job, friends and family — all of which he’ll forsake to throw himself out into the world for 31 days. Armed only with cell phone, laptop and the clothes on his back, plus cameraman Kevin Flint, he lets Craigslist postings determine his itinerary. But this simply means free travel (to Portland, Seattle, New York and so forth), free classes and entertainment, where he meets people who offer food and shelter, and the odd brief volunteer gig. Two luckless nights are spent wandering around “homeless” (the pic shows Garner’s suffering, though Flint never gets a word in), but that’s about it as far as personal sacrifice goes. On a couple of occasions, he meets people with real problems — an Iraqi refugee family that has suffered post-9/11 prejudice; a cancer-stricken, confessedly “crazy” hoarder — and weeps upon seeing New Orleans homes still uninhabitable years after Katrina. All this is intended to convey a sense of community, the kind too often missing in Internet-age everyday life. But the briskly edited docu seldom stops long enough to let Joe’s new friends (identified only by first name) make anything beyond the most superficial impressions. Seeing them hug upon parting is a poor substitute for actually grasping the connections forged while driving or hanging out together for hours. Nor is Garner himself a particularly engaging or articulate guide; in fact, he’s pretty bland company. Bland is also the word for the soundtrack of original tunes and those by various artists contributed by David G. Garner. Lensing is sharp, and tech contributions are polished; some less-than-clear dialogue recording is subtitled.
A CLJ Films release of a CLJ production. Produced by Eve Marson Singbiel, Joseph Garner. Executive producer, Zach Galifianakis, Uday Sehgal. Co-producer, Angelique Sheppard. Directed by Joseph Garner.
Camera (color, HD), Kevin Flint; editor, Drew Kilcoin; music/music supervisor, David G. Garner; sound designer, Ben Russell; graphics/animation designer, James Anderson. Reviewed online, San Francisco, Aug. 1, 2012. Running time: 90 MIN.