Who better to go to space than a migrant farm worker raised by immigrant parents? This question is at the heart of Amazon’s newest cinematic venture A Million Miles Away, starring Michael Peña as real-life astronaut, José Hernández who started out working with his family in the fields of California and ended up amongst the stars.
The film first opens as José and his family are picking up to leave to go to their next seasonal farm work destination. They keep coming back to a small town where the young man thrives in school and his teacher, Miss Young (Michelle Krusiec) takes notice.
The film picks up pretty quickly after Miss Young convinces his family to stay in the area. We see him graduate from college, get his first engineering job, and meet his wife. Throughout this time he never gives up his dream of being an astronaut, eventually making huge sacrifices to achieve it after applying twelve times.
Michael Peña, who plays Hernández from college graduation on, doesn’t get the opportunity often to play a leading man. A Million Miles Away proves he should get top billing more often. He balances comedy and drama well, without being trite or too precious. This is not the first time Peña has been to space cinematically as he was also in Moonfall and The Martian. But the third time proves to be the charm and he delivers a compelling performance.
Rosa Salazar who plays wife Adela, has mainly been in genre and action films for most of her career. Since her break out in dystopian teen films like Maze Runner: The Death Cure and The Divergent Series: Insurgent, she has picked mostly sci-fi and horror projects like Brand New Cherry Flavor, Bird Box, and Alita: Battle Angel. Though she has played comedic and dramatic characters in films such as the underrated Night Owls and Marcel the Shell with Shoes On, A Million Miles Away showcases what a talent she is. She plays off Peña so well, crafting a character many women will relate to, while still filling out the “supportive wife role.” There aren’t many actresses who can add substance to an archetype but Bettina Gilois, Hernán Jiménez, and director Alejandra Márquez Abella’s script give her more to work with than just a one-note character.
The script may rightfully give Salazar her due, but it is not perfect. In the middle of the first act, when we meet Jose as a young adult working as an engineer, we lose any momentum gained from the beginning of his story. While we learn about the racial adversity and everyday minutiae that comes by working in the science and defense industry, it doesn’t serve the film’s greater purpose and should have been condensed. The story also attaches itself to two sentimental moments involving a CGI butterfly that seems tonally out of place, falling into the saccharine traps that many biopics fall into.
Despite this, José Hernández’s story is compelling. The first migrant farmworker to become an astronaut is one that is filled with tender and surreal moments of sacrifice. For the most part, director Abella skillfully handles the film’s tone, using humor and montages that actually show the passage of time beautifully.
A Million Miles Away stumbles at times but overall Abella sticks the landing for the most part showing this real-life Cinderella Story without being too sweet.
A Million Miles Away is on Prime Video now. Watch the trailer below.