Catherine Frot stars as Claire, a widow who works as a midwife at a hospital's maternity ward that's imminently closing. She has an adult son, Simon (Quentin Dolmaire), whose girlfriend announces that she's pregnant with his baby. Paul (Oliver Gourmet), a truck driver, persistently tries to romance her despite that she doesn't quite warm up to him at first. When her father's ex-mistress Beatrice (Catherine Deneuve) calls her out of the blue claiming that she's dying from terminal cancer, she meets up with her and gradually develops a friendship.
The Midwife begins compellingly as Beatrice arrives and disrupts Claire's life. Claire has an animosity toward her for leaving her father, and still blames her for his suicide. She and Beatrice clearly have very different personalities, but the more time they spend together, the more Claire learns to stop holding a grudge against her. They both help one another to grow in many ways. The screenplay by writer/director Martin Provost feels organic, engrossing and genuinely heartfelt during the film's first two acts. It's quite refreshing to observe the evolving dynamics of a female friendship onscreen. How rare it is to encounter such rich and complex roles for older women in cinema these days! Frot and Deneuve both radiate charisma and warmth, and it's a pleasure to watch them play off of each other even when they're not getting along. Bravo to Provost for unflinchingly showing Claire delivering a baby from start to finish, and for not turning the character of Beatrice into a one-note caricature. Beatrice is fallible like all human beings, but she also has a conscience and complex feelings of her own. Also, Provost deserves to be commended for including female characters who undergo innate changes by the time the end credits roll.
To be fair, The Midwife takes a slight nosedive when it tries to juggle too many subplots and turns of events all at once. The way that Provost wraps those subplots up feels a bit rushed and contrived even though he's unafraid to delve into dark territory. This drama is, after all, mostly a tragedy, although it's not nearly as dark or profound as Amour. Fortunately, Frot and Deneuve's stellar performances compensate for the screenplays deficiencies because they manage to successfully rise above the material. It's a testament to their impeccable talents that Claire and Beatrice come to life with all of their complexities and innate human struggles.