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A Million Miles Away (A Movie Review)


Starring Michael Peña, Rosa Salazar , Julio Cesar Cedillo, Veronica Falcón, Juanpi Monterrubio, Garret Dillahunt, Sarayu Blue, Bobby Soto, Ashley Ciarra, Eric Johnson, Jordan Dean, Michelle Krusiec , Emma Fassler, Carlos Santiago Sánchez, Isaac Arellanes, Emy Zuriel, Xochiquetzal Martínez, Leonardo Granados, Marilyn Uribe, Jorge Briseño and Mercedes Hernández.

Screenplay by Bettina Gilois and Hernán Jiménez and Alejandra Márquez Abella.

Directed by Alejandra Márquez Abella.

Distributed by Amazon Studios. 121 minutes. Rated PG.

Even the title of A Million Miles Away shows a fanciful playfulness on the part of the storytellers. Flying to space is well under a million-mile journey, but they are using the term figuratively rather than literally.

José M. Hernández somehow was able to traverse – over a period of years, through just pluck, determination, hard work and a dream – from picking in the migrant fields of southern California to flying into space on a NASA space shuttle mission. It may not physically be a million miles, but it sure as heck seems it.

(Then again, perhaps, the filmmakers just named it that because they were fans of the classic Plimsouls song of the same name….)

A Million Miles Away is oddly similar to the recent also based-on-a-true-story film Burnin’ Hot (although A Million Miles Away is a better, more substantial film). Both films show family men in small barrio areas outside of Los Angeles with a dream of bettering themselves and through innovation and a refusal to say die, are able to eventually break into a nearly impossible berth in the American dream.

Of course, in the other film the guy made his way by creating (or at least improving) snack foods, and in this movie the guy flies to space. So, I think we have a winner here.

Not really knowing the true story behind Hernández’ struggles to become an astronaut, on a guess I’m going to assume that A Million Miles Away is a slightly whitewashed version of history. Certain parts of the story seem to fall into place a little too handily. But perhaps that is okay, because it is such a sweet and inspirational story about families, their dreams and the costs of attaining them that even if the movie fudges some of the facts, it still works.

It mostly works because of the characters, who are smart, kind, fascinating and loveable.

Michael Peña plays Hernández, a family man who has been fascinated by space travel since he was a little kid, even if he was born into a world where that dream was as unlikely as the dream of becoming President. Rosa Salazar is just as important to the film as Hernández’ loving wife Adela, a woman who puts her own dream (to open a restaurant) on the back burner to support her husband and her family.

In fact for as fascinating as Hernández’ dream of space may be, Salazar’s Adela is the beating heart of this film. Even when he occasionally acts a little obtuse, or self-centered in his pursuit of his dream, we cheer for him because she loves him, so he must be worthy.

There is also the added drama that he is coming into the space program long after it had lost its luster with the world at large. Infamously even soon after Neil Armstrong’s first walk on the moon the American public lost its fascination with the program, and soon moon walks were being bounced off of television for non-essential programming.

By the time that Hernández joined the space program, the moon walks were pretty much left behind at the rockets had been replaced by the Space Shuttles. And, sadly, most of the attention that the Shuttle program had was when things went wrong. In fact, Hernández’ first space flight, which makes up the climax of A Million Miles Away was just years after the Columbia tragedy, in which Hernández knew most of the crew who were killed.

While the training and space footage was fascinating, it is the events in Hernández’ life which really cause A Million Miles Away to fly. Regular men can reach great heights no matter where they start out. This movie is a nice reminder of that fact.

Jay S. Jacobs

Copyright ©2023 All rights reserved. Posted: September 14, 2023.


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