19 Apr 2010


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If you were born after 1980, you might not realize that there was a time when Don Cherry of Hockey Night in Canada’s “Coach’s Corner” segment did more than push sartorial boundaries and mix together hockey and patriotism with unmatched vigour.

For one, he really was a coach in the NHL, and a pretty darn good one. And two, when he was a defenceman in the American Hockey League before then, he played the same rough-’em-up style that he advocates today, so he’s walked the walk.

These early and middle parts of his career are on display in Keep Your Head Up, Kid, a two-part, four-hour miniseries from CBC.

The on-ice hockey scenes, which were shot in Winnipeg, are excellent and convincing. The camerawork is frenetic but doesn’t cause nausea, and microphones pick up all the chip-chop noise that should fill a hockey rink. It feels like hockey, and, when necessary, the series doesn’t shy away from bloody violence. Kudos to the producers for that choice, because you can’t tell “the Don Cherry story” properly without going all the way.

I had no trouble believing that this was a period piece, and the sets and costumes are another strength. The clothing is well cut and some ’70s rec rooms are recreated to a tee, including a pair of mesmerizingly ugly chesterfields. On that note, it’s very satisfying to watch Cherry’s suits get more flamboyant over time, and there might be a good drinking game in there.

Jared Keeso has the jaw, build, and gum-chewing skills to play Grapes, but he seems a little starved for dialogue at times, and in more ways than one. Keeso, in character, narrates the miniseries, so a fictional Cherry reflects on his fictional life. The choice to tell the story this way is a little heavy-handed, as is some of the dialogue, but it’s also a wasted opportunity. The effectiveness of the voiceover is restricted by the vocabulary of Cherry’s persona; we get the same boiled cabbage of clichés that we’re used to, so there isn’t much insight or perspective given. Objective narration could have provided more context and been more interesting.

Love him or hate him, Cherry’s rise to prominence has been an unlikely one. Keep Your Head Up, Kid, aside from telling his story, will introduce casual hockey fans to the reality of NHL politics and to one the the league’s best rivalries, between the Boston Bruins and the Montreal Canadiens. No rants about Europeans included.


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