Last night, I spent three hours binge-watching Keep Your Head Up, Kid: The Don Cherry Story. The plan was to watch half of the miniseries one night before bed, and the other part the next night, but it was so much fun that my girlfriend and I decided to watch it in one sitting — bedtimes be dammed!
The made-for-TV miniseries, which originally aired on CBC in 2010, is about everyone’s favorite — or sometimes least favorite — hockey commentator Don Cherry. The two-part biopic chronicles “Grapes” long minor-league hockey career then gets into his coaching career and eventual tenure on Hockey Night in Canada. It was written by his son, Tim Cherry.
Keep Your Head Up, Kid quickly establishes Cherry’s outspoken nature. The story opens with him in grammar school, talking back to his teacher, then refusing to back down and getting reprimanded by the school’s principal. It wastes no time getting to what we really want to see: hockey. Two minutes later, we’re in Pennsylvania, watching Cherry in his first season of pro hockey with the AHL’s Hershey Bears. It takes us chronologically through his playing days, dwelling on the more interesting years — including Cherry’s tortuous time playing under coach Eddie Shore with the Springfield Indians. It then shows us Cherry’s ascent through the coaching ranks, all the way to the NHL, before briefly touching on his broadcasting career.
Jared Keeso stars as Cherry, and does a pretty good job of capturing Cherry’s cocky attitude. Keeso’s imitation of Don Cherry’s voice isn’t quite spot on. It is fine for the dialogue, but tends to stick out and feel wrong for the voiced-over narration. What would have really been dynamite is if the real Don Cherry provided the narration, similar to how voice-overs in shows like The Wonder Years and How I Met Your Mother is provided by older, different actors.
The story isn’t just about Cherry; much of it is about his wife, Rose, who is ably played by Sarah Manninen. (Supposedly, she was so good at her role that Don Cherry himself got choked up when seeing her play the part.) Cherry has said time and again that his wife was a large part of his success; she raised two kids, practically by herself, while Don was away playing or coaching. Through the ups and downs, she stayed by his side and even motivated him.
Don’t worry — this isn’t a love story. There is plenty of hockey. The hockey action, mixed with the sweet story of Don and Rose, make this miniseries one that practically all would enjoy.
What I like about Keep Your Head Up, Kid: The hockey action does not disappoint. Scenes recreated with the actors is seamlessly edited with actual game-action footage, when possible. Cherry had a lot of lows in his careers, but this movie ain’t no tear-jerker.
What I don’t like about Keep Your Head Up, Kid: The actors who play Phil Esposito and Bobby Orr look nothing like Phil Esposito and Bobby Orr; the former is 20 pounds too light, the latter 20 pounds too heavy. Cherry’s tumultous year as the coach of the Colorado Rockies was glossed over; I would really have loved to have seen more of that. I also wish that it focused more on Cherry’s time as a broadcaster — but that actually was the focus of the 2012 follow-up, The Wrath of Grapes: The Don Cherry Story II.
Keep Your Head Up, Kid: The Don Cherry Story is a lot of fun. If you like Don Cherry, you’ll love this movie. Even if you don’t like the Don of Hockey, you will at least find his story entertaining.