A Million Miles Away
September 11th, 2023
MOVIE: A MILLION MILES AWAY
STARRING: MICHAEL PEÑA, ROSA SALAZAR, JULIO CESAR CEDILLO, GARRET DILLAHUNT
DIRECTED BY: ALEJANDRA MÁRQUEZ ABELLA
AMovieGuy.com’s RATING: 3 STARS (Out of 4)
One of the questions that a young Jose Hernández asks his teacher is “What are stars for?” It’s a question that his teacher cannot answer but a question that he hopes to get an answer for himself. Getting to outer space at the age of twelve seemed like a long shot, considering his family had moved from Mexico to California, and the business of picking fruits and vegetables was done by the entire family. Everyone pitched in and to even think about becoming an astronaut was the type of dream you would be laughed at for. In A Million Miles Away– the story of José Hernández becoming an astronaut in the NASA space program- the dream started from the ground beneath his feet. It would soon become a reality, but not without the hard American struggle, which is how A Million Miles Away wins the viewers over, with a soaring story of one man’s never-ending drive to the stars.
Michael Peña stars as Hernández, the oldest in a family of four, with his father Salvador (Julio Cesar Cedillo) and mother Julia (Veronica Falcón) moving the entire family to French Camp, California, in search of a stable life. They found that getting their hands dirty in the fields led to Jose working late nights at his young age, with a lack of sleep, and little stability to focus on schoolwork. But Jose’s teacher saw something in him and he had a passion for outer space. Easy to have those aspirations but the number of Mexican-American astronauts was not exactly high (the total number today is a whopping thirteen people), and his goals and his brilliant mind were not a thing to waste. A Million Miles Away shows every moment of that struggle and how Hernández defied the odds through sheer resilience.
Story-wise, what makes A Million Miles Away such a success is how it steers away from the standard biopic traps, never getting too cheesy, and always staying genuine. The screenplay itself, written by Bettina Gilois, Hernán Jiménez, and director Alejandra Márquez Abella understands that the Mexican culture and the story of this powerful family is a winner. Peña never overplays his role as Hernández, portraying the man in his gentle fashion, a nerd for math, who just wanted to prove that he could do more than his doubters. The story starts with Hernandez as an engineer at the Livermore Laboratory, working at a desk where co-workers constantly assume he’s a janitor, but eventually proving to others that he’s brilliant in math calculations and working with lasers. It was his start at the foot of the mountain and getting to NASA was the peak.
Where A Million Miles Away won me over was the portrayal of José and his relationship with his eventual wife Adela (played wonderfully by Rosa Salazar). Their journey started with Jose noticing her working in the fields with his brother Beto (Bobby Soto), then seeing her at a car dealership, and eventually agreeing to a date, but only after he met her father. The process is adorable and where the plot could veer into lame conversations about stereotypical and antiquated roles, is actually about a genuine connection between two people who love one another. Sacrifices are made, more by Adela, but it’s all within the wonderful script of them building a life together while allowing Jose to always dream.
For many the plot and premise of A Million Miles Away will be lacking in enough emotion and a deeper dig into Hernández’s own drive, but I was won over by the sheer persistence of it all. Peña delivers some of his best work in some time, stepping away from the goofiness of Ant-Man, while Salazar is a rock-solid expression of unconditional love and commitment. Yes, there are some training sequences similar to The Right Stuff or First Man, but Abella’s direction isn’t interested in showing us how Hernández became an astronaut, but in showing how he persisted. It’s a wonderful success story and an underdog movie that reaches for the stars. A Million Miles Away soars above all expectations.
A MILLION MILES AWAY IS CURRENTLY PLAYING IN SELECT THEATERS AND LAUNCHES GLOBALLY ON PRIME VIDEO FRIDAY SEPTEMBER 15TH, 2023.
Written by: Leo Brady