For anyone to literally reach the stars makes for an inspiring tale of determination and grit. For José Hernández — a migrant who spent his early childhood working in farms in the United States — when he reaches the stars, the individual’s tale expands into an important testament to a community’s resilience.
In A Million Miles Away, a biopic based on astronaut José Hernández’s book, the success of a NASA mission is not foregrounded technical prowess or intellectual feats. At a runtime of two hours, José’s (Michael Peña) story from when he dreams of becoming an astronaut, to his training at NASA, and finally his lift-off for a space mission, is spelt out in a linear fashion. Narratively, A Million Miles Away takes negligible risks. Director Alejandra Márquez Abella puts his entire focus on amplifying the heart of the story —José’s family and community.
Right before José begins his training, his superiors warn that this period might be the most taxing for his family, and that they will be the ones to make sacrifices. This message of ‘you don’t owe your success to only yourself’, however, has already been firmly established from the get-go. When José’s teacher recognises a special potential in him, and urges his family to not move around for work, for the sake of providing José a stable education, his father gives up a dream to build a family house in his ancestral town in Mexico. Later, as he begins to devote more time to successfully apply at NASA, José’s wife Adela (Rosa Salazar) defers her dream of opening a restaurant, the family savings going towards José’s flight training.
A Million Miles Away (English, Spanish)
Director: Alejandra Márquez Abella
Cast: Michael Peña, Rosa Salazar, Julio Cesar Cedillo, Veronica Falcón, Garret Dillahunt, and others
Run-time: 120 minutes
Storyline: The biopicofJosé Hernández follows his journey, from when he was child working at farms to him becoming an astronaut
This emotional thread provides a solid-enough basis, not only for José to dare to dream, but also for the film to move from one chapter to the next. There is nothing novel about the way the underdog story plays out, but the emphasis on the role of José’s family and community makes it a compelling, feel-good watch.
However, the film’s insistence of hitting the beats of feel-good cinema, takes the punch out of its more heavier themes. Fighting for success as a Mexican immigrant, and achieving it in one of the most competitive fields in the U.S., José’s journey to the top inevitably involves his race. He is shown being teased in class, and later passed over for important assignments at work.
These incidents don’t go away until José loudly gives the right answer in class, or proves that he can do the same work as his white colleagues. While these instances feature plentiful in the film, their impact in José’s life is rushed over. In a bid to provide the success story, the film shies away from fully confronting the unique obstacles of José’s life. A Million Miles Away seeks to deliver an inspirational tale of the American dream, but sometimes falls short of digging deeper into why José’s dream necessitated a group effort to surmount racial discrimination.
However, A Million Miles Away still manages to provide a wholesome, heartfelt journey to the stars.