one in a million
We are in the midst of, if not the golden age, the rising age of representation in the movies. Minorities, including women, the LGBTQ community, and people of color, are seeing a significant number of films featuring them as leads. It’s a wonder it’s taken this long, as not only are the filmmakers and actors making them proving how talented they are, but the movies also tend to show how profitable they can be for the studios.
The latest example is A Million Miles Away, which centers on the somewhat improbable journey of former NASA astronaut Jose Hernández (Michael Peña). Hernández (played as a child by Juan Pablo Monterrubio) grew up as one of four children of migrant farm workers, traveling annually from their hometown of Michoacán, Mexico to a variety of farms around California to help pick crops.
Hernández showed academic promise at an early age, and went on to get an engineering degree. The bulk of the film shows him doggedly pursuing his dream of becoming an astronaut, one that still seems far away despite his experience as an engineer. With the help of his wife, Adela (Rosa Salazar), and a never-quit attitude, Hernández demonstrates how far one can travel from their supposed station in life.
Written and directed by Alejandra Márquez Abella, and co-written by Bettina Gilois and Hernán Jiménez, the film is inspiring, featuring an appealing lead performance by Peña, who doesn’t get as many starring roles as he should. The filmmakers consistently hit the sweet spot between telling a version of the story that only exists in the movie and being truthful to actual events, blending them seamlessly for a rewarding experience.
While Hernández was not the first Hispanic astronaut at NASA, the movie sells the story as one worth telling because of his background. Márquez Abella pointedly shows how hard Hernández and his family worked during his childhood and the sacrifices they were willing to make, not so subtly showing the value of all migrant farm workers. The movie never strays far from his Mexican culture, an important point that stands in contrast to other films that assimilate their minority characters.
Hernández’s time at NASA is treated neither as a surprise nor as the only important part of his life, and both approaches feel right. The family aspect of the film shines through, first as a child and then with his wife and her family, and spending as much time with them as the film does pays big dividends by the end. Hernández’s career is still the most prominent part of the film, but the debt he owes everyone else in his life comes through loud and clear.
Peña, who has run the gamut of characters in his filmography, shines in this role. He has a great combination of friendliness and determinedness that the part needs, and he elevates everyone around him. Salazar makes the most of what can be a thankless role playing the supportive wife. Bobby Soto, playing a similar role to the one he did in Flamin’ Hot, is once again a solid presence.
There have been a multitude of people who have risen from the bottom in the United States, giving filmmakers innumerable ways to tell a rousing story. A Million Miles Away is an entertaining, hopeful, and joyful look at one such man, and the many people who supported him along the way.
A Million Miles Away debuts on Prime Video on September 15.