Plot: In a small, rural town, work conditions at a local cotton mill are less than ideal, to say the least. Even basic safety seems to be a non priority in most cases, which leads to unnecessary injuries and ailments at times. But the mill is one of the few places in town to earn a passable wage, so few people complain, as losing the mill work could mean losing what little they have. But Norma Rae (Sally Field) is never afraid to speak her mind and stand up for her coworkers, though she is seen by the managers as more of an annoyance than anything else. When a union organizer arrives in town, he is met with stern resistance from the locals, who are scared the mill will close rather than allow a union, while the mill bosses are even less warm. Reuben (Rob Leibman) finds an ally in the fiery Norma Rae, but the battle to convince the locals to fight for a fair wage and safe work conditions is going to be a tough, uphill climb. Can one local with a bad reputation and an outsider overcome the odds?
Entertainment Value: This is an effective drama with some great performances, but Norma Rea is also high melodrama and piles on the sentimental elements. This is going to delight some, who appreciate that kind of approach, but to me it lessens the real resonance of the narrative. The story was based on real life events, but feels like high camp at times, because of the melodrama. The union is portrayed as a selfless savior, while the mill bosses come across as evil incarnate, a simplified contrast that makes this feel like a cartoon at times. The push for maximum profits would have been enough to rally viewers behind Norma, but the movie is determined to demonize the mill’s upper staff to ridiculous levels. I mean, I like camp and all, but this seems like it should be more grounded and realistic, given the material. Sally Field is fun in the lead and has more attitude than the law should allow, in one of the roles that helped establish her as a talent to be reckoned with. She is fiery, dynamic, and charismatic, exactly the kind of performer this role needed. Rob Liebman, Beau Bridges, Pat Hingle, Gail Strickland headline the supporting cast, which is a solid lineup, but most turn in ham handed, one dimensional performances. While I do have issues with the approach taken, Norma Rae is still a very good drama and Field’s performance alone makes the movie easy to recommend to film fans.
No nakedness. Norma’s sex life is often discussed and her past is even weaponized against her, but the actual sexual content is minimal. No blood. The movie has a few scuffles and some domestic violence, but one scene where Norma’s nose bleeds a little is the lone instance of bloodshed. I do think the mill is a scary place however, as I was on edge the entire movie that someone was going to be maimed or injured by the machines, given the subject matter involved. The dialogue is well written, a little basic and leans on one dimensional characters, but still well written for the most part. This includes some colorful lines, with Norma a consistent source of fun moments, as well as general good old boy talk, inspirational speeches, and some slut shame moments. No real craziness, but Norma is such a colorful, spunky character, so I suppose one point is in order for her presence.
Overall Insanity: 1/10