Year:  2023

Director:  Alejandra Márquez Abella

Release:  September 15, 2023

Distributor: Prime Video

Running time: 121 minutes

Worth: $14.50
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Michael Peña, Rosa Salazar, Garret Dillahunt, Sarayu Blue, Emma Fassler

… may not break away from the orbit of its inspirational biopic predecessors, but it has enough heart and talent to make it satisfy.

A lot of modern-day inspirational biopics run on the idea that it is possible for an ordinary man or woman to shoot for the stars. A Million Miles Away is a literal example, following the story of José Hernández, a Mexican-American engineer who became the first migrant farmworker to travel to space.

As portrayed by Michael Peña, the film shows Hernández’s career trajectory with plentiful amounts of working-class pathos. Rather than highlighting him as some brilliant paragon, Peña and the script instead emphasise his resilience… or, given how many rejection letters we see him get from NASA, maybe even his stubbornness. The story is chapter-marked by the five ingredients in a ‘recipe’ passed down by his father, all of which make a part of Hernández’s mission to become part of the melting pot and achieve his own American Dream, from figuring out what he wants, and reaching it, which just means that the work has only just begun.

While the film itself largely abstains from the treaclier hallmarks of its own sub-genre, lest this turn into another slice of Hidden Figures cheesedom, the film craft used to bring it together has its moments of slickness. The use of ‘California Dreamin’’ as a transition for Hernández and his family crossing the U.S. border is a nice touch, as is the eclectic mix of Spanish- and English-language music throughout. Dariela Ludlow’s cinematography and Hervé Schneid’s editing make quick work of the montages, allowing for even the lengthier time jumps to still come off smoothly; they keep the frame as down-to-earth as possible, so that the closer Hernández gets to leaving Earth, the more that his journey is emphasised as a triumph.

Peña’s everyman charisma is used extremely well here, but he’s held up even higher by his supporting cast. Rosa Salazar, Battle Angel Alita herself, as his wife Adela adds a lot to the emotional impact of Hernández’s drive to succeed, epitomised in a speech that directly calls into question whether anyone else is more deserving of a spot on that rocket than Hernández himself. The inclusion of racial tensions can feel halfhearted at times (looking at you, Emma Fassler as the secretary), but when it works, it really works. There’s also Garret Dillahunt and Sarayu Blue, two chronically underappreciated performers, who flesh out the ranks within NASA during the second half, adding to Hernández’s support network and the growing list of people who want this man to achieve the impossible.

A Million Miles Away may not break away from the orbit of its inspirational biopic predecessors (sharing similar DNA with the recent Flamin’ Hot), but it has enough heart and talent to make it satisfy. Its depiction of José Hernández as the mariposa that spread his wings and left the confines of our atmosphere, embodied by Michael Peña in one of his most charming turns to date, makes it feel-good, grounded with enough real-world clarity to make every stage of the journey worth investing in.