There is a concept in physics known as The Observer Affect, which essentially states that viewing an object inherently changes its bahavior. The results you get from observations are thus tainted unless you significantly alter how you view the object. Documentary filmmakers face a similar obstacle, in that the process of walking around with a camera and shoving it into people’s faces tends to produce altered results. This film, produced by Zach Galifianakis and featuring Joseph Garner, utterly fails to overcome this obstacle.
I respect the idea and vision behind the film, which sets out to determine if someone can live entirely off the goodwill of others. In a world dominated by corporations who have invaded our government, wrecked our economy, and left countless people living in poverty, it is a noble question to ask. But the method in which the film determines to answer the question is way off the mark.
This general concept about the inherent goodness in people is transferred into a more specific question about Craigslist, as Mr. Garner ponders if he can live “entirely off of Craigslist.” This automatically reduces the sampling pool of the American public down to those who have computers, internet access, and actively use Craigslist. So here we have a problem right out of the gate. Furthermore, whether one can “live entirely off Craigslist” and whether people are inherently helpful to their fellow humans seems to be two almost entirely separate concepts to be explored in separate documentaries.
The fact that Mr. Garner is armed with a laptop and a smartphone, and is a relatively attractive white guy in clearly middle class clothes–not to mention he is walking around with a cameraman and film equipment–would make him considerably less threatening than your average homeless person who gets by only on the charity of others. And what about the ads he places on Craigslist or what he might be saying to the potentially “selfless” people involved in the film off camera? It seems as if they are well aware of the circumstances of the documentary itself, or at least are as soon as a camera is pointed in their face.
So how does this say anything at all about human nature other than the fact that a lot of people out there would love to be in a movie? There seems to be a lot of self-congratulating going on here, as Mr. Garner praises his subjects for being selfless, and they praise him back for doing important work. Neither is really shown to be true, however.
Finally, the documentary loses even more focus by making it about cross-country travel as well. Why is Mr. Garner travelling all over the country? If his focus is on the goodwill of others and if one can live off of Craigslist for a month, why is he catching rides to Seattle, New York, New Orleans, back to San Francisco, etc.? Why not attempt to work out the thesis in one location?
It makes no sense. The film tries to be and do far too many things, and whatever message it tries to bring the viewer gets lost in the process. It’s not worth your time, but if you want to watch it anyway, it’s available on Netflix.