Alexander Payne's 'The Holdovers' Hit by 'Identical' Plagiarism Accusations

Oscar-Nominated Film Embroiled in Serious Plagiarism Controversy

by Zain ul Abedin
Alexander Payne's 'The Holdovers' Hit by 'Identical' Plagiarism Accusations
© Jeff Spicer/Getty Images

In an unexpected turn of events, Alexander Payne's critically acclaimed dramedy "The Holdovers" finds itself at the center of a contentious plagiarism dispute, just as it stands on the cusp of potentially securing the Best Original Screenplay award at the 2024 Oscars.

Simon Stephenson, known for his contributions to "Luca" and "Paddington 2," has leveled serious allegations against Payne and David Hemingson, the writer of "The Holdovers," accusing them of what he describes as a "line-by-line" replication of his 2013 screenplay, "Frisco." This controversy has come to light following Stephenson's communications with the Writers Guild of America (WGA), as reported by Variety.

These documents reveal a striking similarity between the narratives of both screenplays: "Frisco" revolves around a disgruntled children’s doctor tasked with caring for a 15-year-old patient, while "The Holdovers" portrays a similar relationship between a boarding school teacher and his 15-year-old charge over the holiday season.

The claims have escalated following Stephenson's dialogue with WGA's senior director of credits, Lesley Mackey. Stephenson alleges a blatant act of plagiarism, describing the screenplay for "The Holdovers" as "genuinely overwhelming" in its similarity to "Frisco," to the extent that those who have reviewed both scripts reportedly use the term "brazen" to describe the resemblance.

Allegations Intensify

This situation is further complicated by Stephenson's assertion that Payne had been exposed to the "Frisco" script on two separate occasions before the development of "The Holdovers." According to Stephenson, Payne was first introduced to the script in 2013 and again in 2019, raising questions about the originality of "The Holdovers" screenplay.

Despite the gravity of these allegations, responses from the parties involved, including Payne, Hemingson, and representatives for Focus Features, have been notably absent. Payne and Hemingson have declined to comment on the matter, and while Stephenson confirmed the authenticity of his communications with the WGA, he has refrained from further commentary.

The dispute has prompted ongoing discussions with the WGA as Stephenson seeks to substantiate his claims. He argues that the screenplay for "The Holdovers" not only mirrors the plot and characters of "Frisco" but also replicates the screenplay's structure, scenes, and dialogue, branding the two works as "forensically identical."