The Midwife: an uneven odd-couple drama
Acting powerhouses Catherine Frot and Catherine Deneuve are wasted in Martin Provost’s fitful drama
Catherine Deneuve and Catherine Frot in The Midwife
Film Title: The Midwife
Director: Martin Provost
Starring: Catherine Frot, Catherine Deneuve, Olivier Gourmet, Quentin Dolmaire, Mylene Demongeot
Running Time: 117 min
Catherine Frot is Claire, an uptight, hardworking midwife. She doesn’t drink or smoke. She appears to subsist entirely on the organic vegetables she grows on her allotment. She rebuffs the attentions of Paul (Olivier Gourmet), the kindly truck driver on the neighbouring garden patch. Surplus potato sets? Mais, non.
Her son, a medical student, incites dismay and no little passive-aggression when he reveals, among other things, that he has changed his major. The birthing centre where Claire works is about to close, so she and her colleagues will have to consider employment at a mega-hospital that is almost as boring and corporate as Claire herself.
Catherine Deneuve is Beatrice, the sometime mistress of Claire’s late father. She’s an inveterate gambler, a good-time gal, a boozer, and, yes, she’ll have the frites and mayonnaise with that. She turns up to make amends with Claire, whom she hasn’t seen in decades, and to provide some much needed devilment.
In theory. This ought to have been a slam-dunk. A platonic Manic Pixie Dream Girl movie featuring not just the grandest of dames, but all of the Catherines, all at once? As written and directed by Martin Provost (Seraphine, Violette), the last of the great makers of what Golden Age Hollywood quaintly called women’s pictures? Did we mention that Beatrice has a brain tumour?
The trouble is that, structurally, the film’s odd-couple dynamic is delivered in stops and starts. Deneuve’s character is so sidelined, one half suspects she was on whatever dollars-per-nanosecond rate they were paying the carefully-rationed Robert Downey Jr for Spider-Man: Homecoming.
Beatrice’s influence on the dull Claire is, sadly, only incremental. Out comes the lipstick and finally, the truck driver next door is in with a shout. But this means that Claire magically goes from being a wagon to merely a dose.
It’s a waste of Frot, an actor so gifted she wiped the floor with Meryl Streep in last year’s great Florence Foster Jenkins stand-off. Deneuve meanwhile is saddled with a clumsy dying-young (wink, wink) subplot that splutters toward a daft denouement.