Too often do we focus on “firsts” to judge whether or not something is inspiring. The first person to get the top of Mt. Everest, the first woman to fly solo over the Atlantic, the first man on the moon.
As I sat down to watch A Million Miles Away I assumed it would be about the first Mexican- American to go to space. This turned out not to be the case (it was actually Franklin Chang Diaz), but Jose “The First Migrant Worker in Space” Hernandez’s story is no less inspirational, even if the movie based on his life is not as ambitious as the man himself.
A Million Miles Away stars Michael Pena as Jose Hernandez and Rosa Salazar as his wife Adela, a pair that make for some very easy viewing. Their chemistry is genuine and their performances are heartfelt and well done, as are those of everyone else in their orbit.
A Million Miles Away is strongest when it focuses on the family dynamics of the Hernandez clan, affectionately showing that when one person excels it is usually with the help of many unseen and sometimes underappreciated coaches and cheerleaders.
The performances and focus give A Million Miles Away an irresistible emotional core to its quintessential American dream narrative, a core that sustains it when another movie might have started running on fumes.
If the film sags it is because of its script, which is not as interesting as it could have been. The dialogue is fine but not particularly snappy, a fact that can be easy to overlook when you have people like Pena and Salazar delivering the lines.
And while it may closely resemble reality, the fact that Hernandez’s journey is so prototypical of the pull-yourself-up-by-your-bootstraps tale that has enthralled hopeful immigrants for generations also means that the film sometimes feels like a cliché, or at least has moments that feel cliché. This might seem a bit unfair to real-life events, but even the narrative embellishments have an air of familiarity (how many times have we seen a butterfly metaphor in films like this? I feel like it’s a lot).
Some additional time fleshing out the relationships between Jose and those close to him might have been nice as well, because while family is the driving force of this film it also feels oddly secondary, at least when compared to Hernandez’s ultimate goal of going to space.
All of this is to say that A Million Miles Away doesn’t take any chances from a movie-making standpoint, instead mostly letting its sentimentality speak for itself.
But speak for itself it does. A Million Miles Away is a good time that will remind you that when you shoot for the stars you sometimes just might make it there. It’s sometimes overly fluffy and sometimes doesn’t have much substance under the surface, but it has its heart in the right place, and that’s enough for me.
A Million Miles Away is available on Amazon Prime.