Michael Pena has the right stuff.
“A Million Miles Away” is the true story of how Jose M. Hernandez transitioned from a migrant farm worker to an engineer to an astronaut. He became the first-Mexican-American to go into space. It’s also a more affective and honest retelling of an iconic Mexican character reaching for the American dream than “Flamin’ Hot.” That movie was about Cheetos; this one is about going into space, and it deals with the right themes and optimism.
Michael Pena delivers one of his best performances as the astronaut. It’s a role that reminds me a bit of his role in “End of Watch,” because of the humanity and emotions he puts inside his character.
As the movie opens, we see young Jose (Juanpi Monterrubio) moving to Stockton, California, working with his family picking grapes. He throws a fit getting tired of it all, but his father (Julio Cesar Cedillo) tells him that he’s tired, too. They all are, but they still have to keep going in order to survive. And he gives him 5 ingredients for getting through hard work and accomplishing his goals.
1.) Find your goal.
2.) Know how far you are.
3.) Draw a roadmap.
4.) If you don’t know how, learn.
5.) When you think you’ve made it, you probably have to work harder.
His dream is to go to space and expand his horizons. Maybe his engineer skills and I.Q. can jumpstart his dream. He does get discriminated as a janitor at his first engineer job, but his I.Q. does earn him some respect. He keeps getting rejected by NASA, but he keeps applying and testing himself to new limits. Even willing to travel to Russia to find out what else he’s in for. This is how persistent he is.
There’s also a romance between him and a car dealer and would-be chef named Adela (Rosa Salazar), whom he marries and begins a family with. As their family gets bigger, his ambitions get stronger.
“A Million Miles Away” has a few cliches that we can see coming, but it does overshadow them by expressing a man’s dream to reach for the stars. Co-writer/director Alejandra Márquez Abella draws the film with good intentions and has the right leading man to help represent this true story. Not because Pena is well-known, but because of how he adapts well as the astronaut. And plus, he has helpful support from Salazar, who uses the right words and vulnerabilities to play his wife, who wants what’s best for him and their family.
Like “The Right Stuff,” “First Man,” “Apollo 13,” and “Ad Astra,” among others, this one shares its love for astronauts and their space missions. And it chooses fresh actors to prepare to reach outside their comfort zones. The last space movie Pena was involved with was the awful “Moonfall.” Even audiences disliked that film, and it deserved to be a box office bomb. “A Million Miles Away” is miles-no, lightyears-away from that film, because its doesn’t bombastically go into space, and chooses to take its time in the preparations.
I don’t want this review to sound derivative in regards to its courage in this particular genre, but I’m able to see something warmhearted and well-acted inside this representation. It’s one that should find a spot on Amazon Prime.
Streaming on Amazon Prime Video This Friday
This article was written by me with full support of the SAG-AFTRA and Writers Guild of America strikes.