In Hollywood movies, the lives of the great creative geniuses all follow a pretty similar path. From humble origins our hero will struggle and nearly give up. Then they will find themselves a supportive girlfriend or mentor and have some kind of transformative breakthrough. And then finally they become alienated from their friends and experience some kind of 'Great Big Crisis'.
"Basquiat" starts with the young artist painting graffiti on the streets on Manhattan. He may be starving but he's happy - at least until his ambitions are dashed by an unpleasant encounter with the owner of a gallery. But it only takes a beautiful and worthy girlfriend (Forlani) and a fortunate encounter with Andy Warhol (David Bowie) to make him the darling of the 80s art scene.
There's much worth celebrating about "Basquiat". Jeffrey Wright's lead performance is believable and sympathetic, and the direction (from Julian Schnabel - an artist and friend of Basquait himself) is smooth, if unimaginative.
And while the array of celebrity cameos (from such stars as Courtney Love, Christopher Walken, Dennis Hopper, and Willem Dafoe) are of variable quality, they help to portray the star culture and emptiness of New York's art elite.
But finally the film is too scared to confront the world that both Basquait and Schnabel inhabited. Institutional racism is alluded to but never fully explored, and the idea that what separates graffiti from art is nothing but patronage is kept uncomfortably low-key throughout the movie. Without this extra nerve, "Basquiat" can't hope to be more than yet another affecting but cliched addition to the tortured genius genre, with none of the class of Oscar-winner "Good Will Hunting" or "A Beautiful Mind".