Oscar-nominated film ‘The Holdovers’ accused of line-by-line plagiarism at 11th hour

The Holdovers has been accused of plagiarism
The Holdovers has been accused of plagiarism Copyright Focus Features
Copyright Focus Features
By David Mouriquand
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'The Holdovers' has five Oscar nominations... and now, one credible accusation of plagiarism.


Well, this is awkward...

We thought that the biggest hoopla at this year’s Oscars would be the absence of Messi, the dog from Anatomy of a Fall, who is rumoured not to be attending the ceremony in a few hours because some members of the Academy were none to pleased with the dog doing the rounds.

Seriously – some companies with nominated films were complaining about the good boy attending Oscars luncheons because the pooch was giving the film an unfair boost during the voting window.

Same old Hollywood...

But now, a bigger bombshell has dropped.

The Oscar nominated film The Holdovers – a major awards contender nominated five times for Best Film, Best Actor, Best Supporting Actress, Best Original Screenplay, and Best Film Editing (and one of our favourite films of 2023) – is facing controversy only hours before the Oscars ceremony.

Alexander Payne’s film, scripted by David Hemingson, has been accused of line-by-line plagiarism. What’s worse is that the film is nominated for Best Original Screenplay, against Maestro, Anatomy of a Fall, May December and Past Lives - which ended its voting window late last month.

According to Luca and Paddington 2 writer Simon Stephenson, the script has striking similarities to his unproduced 2013 screenplay Frisco, about a cynical paediatrician who finds himself looking after a teenage patient over a period of days. The Holdovers stars Paul Giamatti (a favourite to win Best Actor tonight alongside Cillian Murphy for Oppenheimer) as a cynical and world-weary teacher who is looking after a teenage student over a period of days at a boarding school.

Stephenson presented documents comparing scenes from both screenplays, and sent them to the WGA in January to seek help. Now, Variety has made one of those documents public and reported Stephenson.

“The meaningful entirety of the screenplay for THE HOLDOVERS has been copied from the FRISCO screenplay by transposition,” claims the document. “This includes the FRISCO screenplay’s entire story, structure, sequencing, scenes, sequential sub-beats within scenes, line-by-line substance of action and dialogue, characters, arcs, relationships, theme and tone. A majority of this has been done line-for-line, and a large number of unique and highly specific elements created in FRISCO are readily and unequivocally identifiable in THE HOLDOVERS.”

Stephenson has been engaged in months-long discussions with the WGA in order to address his claims, Variety reports.

Further complicating things is the fact that Stephenson alleges that Payne had previously received the script for Frisco in 2013 and in 2019, shortly before the director tapped Hemingson to collaborate with him on what would become The Holdovers.

To be continued... But if The Holdovers wins any major Oscars tonight – we predict potentially two – these wins will be overshadowed by one hell of a controversy.

The 96th Oscars take place tonight. Stay tuned to Euronews Culture for our live coverage on Sunday evening.

Additional sources • Variety

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