A Million Miles Away (2023) Review

First things first, Alejandra Márquez Abella doesn’t break any new ground in A Million Miles Away, a biopic about José Hernàndez who made history for being the first Mexican-American migrant farmworker fulfilling his lifelong dream of flying to space as an astronaut.

Abella chose to play it safe with the kind of inspirational story that Hollywood loves to do on a regular basis. You know the drill — it all started with humble beginnings, tracing way back to José’s childhood as a 7-year-old kid (Juanpi Monterrubio), who juggles his time between helping his parents (Julio Cesar Cedillo and Veronica Falcón) on the farm and attending classes in the elementary school.

We see him being teased by his fellow classmates due to his lacklustre ability to speak English. But he’s a child prodigy when comes to answering even a difficult math question. Her teacher, Miss Young (a wonderful Michelle Krusiec) realises how gifted José turns out to be. She knows that he can go far if only his parents would stop living a nomadic life and settle down in one place instead.

The problem is, travelling from one farm to another wherever there’s work required would only affect José’s studies in the long run. So, after Miss Young manages to convince his parents, José’s father makes a decision to stay in Stockton and pays more attention to his son’s education.

The movie soon focuses on José’s adulthood (now played by Michael Peña). He works as a lab engineer but he never forgets about his dream of becoming an astronaut. He would send in his application form every single year to NASA’s space programme, only to keep getting rejection letters. But he remains persistent that one day he will be accepted.

We also see José’s first encounter with his future wife, Adela (Rosa Salazar) and later, they eventually get married and have kids. The introduction of Adela could have been easily slipped into the conventional supportive wife role. But Salazar manages to stand out on her own with her solid supporting turn as Adela. She may have been spending her time taking care of the kids at home. But she’ll never forget about helping her husband to fulfil his dream. She’s even willing to sacrifice her own dream of opening a restaurant to help him and wants him to see things from a different perspective. And that is, addressing his weaknesses and improving from there so he would have the added advantage upon applying for NASA again.

Michael Peña and Rosa Salazar in Prime Video's "A Million Miles Away" (2023)

The strong onscreen chemistry between Peña and Salazar is part of the reasons that made A Million Miles Away a cut above your typical biopic fare. I enjoy watching the ups and downs of their relationships and apart from Salazar’s excellent performance, Peña truly excels in his lead character as José Hernàndez. His journey is certainly a classic underdog tale — from being a nobody (he may have been an engineer at work but his colleagues seem to underappreciate him) to his eventual dream comes true of getting selected into NASA’s space programme.

The recurring themes of determination and a never-give-up attitude are efficiently incorporated here throughout the movie. The movie is also beautifully shot with the help of cinematographer Dariela Ludlow and I love the way the story is divided into five chapters based on José’s father’s “ingredients” (e.g. Ingredient No. 1 – Find Your Goal, Ingredient No. 2 – Know How Far You Are).

What’s missing here is a bang of a finale. The third act seems diluted in its would-be epic ending of José finally getting his chance to travel to space with his STS-128 crew aboard the space shuttle to the International Space Station. But overall, A Million Miles Away is a heartfelt and well-acted biopic, thanks largely to Peña and Salazar’s above-average performances.

A Million Miles Away is currently streaming on Prime Video.