“…. Almost effortlessly, the film creates a captivating modern heroine: Sally Field's Norma Rae, a spunky North Carolina textile worker who switches from bed-hopping to labor organizing under the indluence of … Reuben Warshovsky (Ron Leibman). Norma Rae is no working-class martyr. She's a tough, emotional, believable woman, one who gripes and sweats and makes the best of things, and if she's a little smarter and a little more energetic than the people around her, she doesn't appear to know it….
“Ritt has always had a way with actors--or, more specifically, with faces. He's a skilled tearjerker, but you can't resent his methods: stripping his actors--and expecially his actresses--of affectation, of extraneous movement, of everything but the basic human hopes and anxieties, he trains his camera on their faces and waits for the emotion to spill over. By the end of Sounder, Cicely Tyson's slightest quaver seems unaccountably moving. And so it is here, with Sally Field. Probably everybody knows by now that Sally Field is a fine actress. If you couldn't be sure from her breezy performances in Stay Hungry and the Burt Reynolds movies, then certainly her scary Jekyll-and-Hyde protrayal of Sybil on TV was proof enough. Field is capable of moving from radiance to repellence just by turning all the lines in her face downward and slumping her shoulders. And somewhere between those extremes is an inimitable look of feisty determination: when she crimps that wide, expressive mouth, steels her shoulders and, hugging the ground, scuttles at top speed around the room, she has the intensity of a whirling dervish. Field is a funky, rather unkempt-looking actress, but that makes her all the more convincing as a down-home girl, and her ferocity and passion in Norma Rae are so entrancing that it's not nearly as difficult as it should be to believe she could organize a whole mill almost singlehandedly.
“Unfortunately, the film isn't told from Norma Rae's point of view. Instead, Ritt and the Ravetches are represented onscreen by Reuben, and there's more than a touch of liberal condescension there…. [Schiff explains that the Jewish Reuben was a fabrication who, in real life, may have encountered serious trouble in the South.]
“…. When, with dubious ease, the workers vote in the union, Ritt focuses on one craggy, Dorothea Lange-like face as it trembles and blinks, as tears of joy spring to the eyes and a cry of exultation to the lips. Ritt must think he's Frank Capra or King Vido, whipping us into a populist frenzy. We identify with the Little Guy, all right, but the story begins to seems a fantasy; it's as hard to swallow as Mr. Deeds Goes to Town….”
Boston Phoenix, March 13, 1979