Netflix Movie Review: ‘Craigslist Joe’

Deanne Pierce

What if someone tried to use Craigslist not to sell, buy, or promote something, but to survive? We all know Craigslist as the efficient online flea market to get anything from couches to houses (in fact it’s how I found my last two apartments in Madison).

Meet Joseph Garner, aka “Craigslist Joe”, the 29 year old LA native who set out on December 1st, 2011 with nothing but a newly purchased cell phone (so he wouldn’t be able to contact anyone he knew), a laptop, passport, toothbrush, a camera man he met via Craigslist, and not a penny to his name. His mission? To see if he could live entirely off of the generosity of other people on Craigslist for 31 days.

My initial reaction was equal parts intrigue and concern. We’ve all heard the Craigslist horror stories, and the site has been linked to crimes ranging from robbery to murder. Certainly, even if he did find a few compassionate people, he couldn’t live off of compassion for an entire month. I anticipated a semi-inspiring if not somewhat bleak journey for Joe.

What I did not expect was not only did Joe have the bare necessities (for the most part, he did struggle a few days), but he also had the experience of a lifetime. He ended up making a cross country road trip via Craigslist rideshares and met some unforgettable characters such as an eclectic Seattle couple, a dominatrix in Chicago, a former “Home Alone”  actress in New York with a hoarding problem, and a random Texas man who he takes a detour to Mexico with. He finds free entertainment like piano lessons, break-dancing class, a haircut, and even a date. He finds opportunities volunteering to tutor youth, working for a soup kitchen, and gathering Christmas toys for kids. He even finds inspiration: in a Hindi family who talks to him about the discrimination they’ve faced since 9/11, in a walk he takes around a battered New Orleans, and in the story of every person who lets him into their house, car, and world.

“Craigslist Joe” is a warm reminder that in this digital age where Americans are deemed by many experts as isolated, unsocial, and narcissistic, human generosity has not gone the way of mixed tapes, and perhaps online sites such as Craigslist don’t destroy communities, but actually make them stronger. Maybe this big bad world isn’t so big and bad after all. I highly encourage you to queue up this touching documentary for your next Netflix movie night. Now, let’s hold out hope for the time when a woman could go on the same adventure and have just as good of an experience.

(4 out of 5 stars)