Ben Chambers (Redd Foxx) has travelled to Los Angeles to visit his son who works as a window dresser there, and it is to be a surprise visit, though Ben doesn't realise just how surprising it will be - for him. When he gets a taxi from the bus terminal to the apartment he presses the intercom which wakes his son Norman (Michael Warren), who when he hears his father's voice is horrified. This is because he's not alone: he has company in his bed from his flatmate and what he has never found the courage to tell his father is that he is gay...
Norman... Is That You? was based on a play which was a resounding flop on Broadway, but television comedy producer George Schlatter (he had created Rowan and Martin's Laugh-In, among other other TV viewer magnets, often big, splashy variety specials) saw something in the material and decided to adapt it as a vehicle for comedian Redd Foxx, who was riding high at the height of his fame thanks to the sitcom Sanford and Son, the American adaptation of British classic Steptoe and Son. In the original play the ageing couple with the gay son had been Jewish, but with a few writing tweaks Foxx and legendary singer Pearl Bailey took the roles fairly smoothly.
This was nothing if not well-meaning, to the extent that it came across as less a gutbusting kneeslapper and more a public information film stretched out to feature length about what to do if you discover your son is a homosexual. Ben has the most trouble in adjusting to this situation but has learned a valuable lesson by the finale, which receptive audiences, and even some unreceptive ones, were presumably intended to sympathise with, after all Foxx was a popular entertainer and you could understand that if he was fine with a gay son, then so should you be. The titular Norman's point of view was not neglected, as we perceived this was an awkward dilemma for him as well.
The message being it need not be, and if everyone relaxed and had a laugh about this then the world would be a better place, all very altruistic but sadly translating into more meaningful earnestness than actual laughs. With Foxx taking the lead, by this time revered for his comedy work, including some classic so-called party albums which featured sides and sides of blue material, you might have expected something far nearer the knuckle than what you ended up with. Certainly he managed to wring a few chuckles out of the dialogue and such endearingly clueless coping behaviour as going to a bookshop and buying a pile of gay-themed tomes (someone puts All the President's Men in there for some reason), but it was surprisingly mild overall.
Dennis Dugan played the boyfriend Garson as far more of a swishy stereoptype than Warren (who would find more lasting appreciation thanks to T.V.'s Hill Street Blues in the following decade), as if they wanted to represent all sorts of homosexual life, but in the final reckoning just stuck with two types. Cult performer Wayland Flowers, the excellent puppeteer, also showed up to act out some of his routines, and his appearances break up the rather monotonous entertainment, but Bailey fans might be let down that while her character, Ben's wife, is talked about thanks to her running off with Ben's brother, she didn't really appear until the final act, so didn't get much to do aside from put across that "We're OK with this, so should you be" moral. Shot on videotape for cheapness' sake and looking like a sitcom itself, the film's heart was unquestionably in the right place, but it's a relic now which may hold historical interest but little amusement otherwise. Music by William Goldstein, aliong with some Motown tunes.