It’s impossible to hate a movie about immigrants embracing the American dream.
Even “Flamin’ Hot,” which turned the “inspired by a true story” phrase upside down, showcased the hustle and heart it takes to fulfill this country’s promise.
“A Million Miles Away” falls squarely in this genre, and the character in question actually did what the movie suggests (phew!). Jose Hernandez left Earth for space, fulfilling a lifetime dream against every odd you can imagine.
What starts with cliches and hokum slowly gives way to something profound. This isn’t just an immigrant’s success story. It’s a tribute to marriage.
Young Jose Hernandez (Juan Pablo Monterrubio) bounces from field to field with his migrant family members. It’s the late 1960s, and Mexicans like Jose work the crops that find their way to dinner tables nationwide.
It’s back-breaking labor, but the Hernandez clan does it without complaint. They have little choice.
Money is scarce and so, too, is opportunity. The lad can’t help dreaming big, and his loyal teacher (Michelle Krusiec) sees something special in the boy as his gaze reaches for the stars.
Except these opening sequences feel so familiar, so mechanical, that we’re left thinking we’ve stumbled into an old-school, made-for-television film.
New episode with Rick Telles on his new Amazon Prime film documenting the life of NASA astronaut José Hernández starring Michael Peña called "A Million Miles Away," General Hospital, Rick Springfield, MTV Road Rules, VH1 Surreal Life, and so much more… https://t.co/EWfJIv0ybx pic.twitter.com/6ohNW8ZsXf
— Scott Williams (@scottwilliamsib) September 8, 2023
The story gets a bounce when we flash forward 15 or so years. Jose is now a young man, played by a 47-year-old Michael Pena. At least “Private Parts” had Howard Stern directly address why a 40-something actor was playing a college student.
Here, we wince watching Pena pretend to be young without de-aging or other screen tics. It doesn’t help that Jose’s on-screen parents appear untouched by the years.
We also see a clueless white person assume Jose is a janitor, not an engineer, even though the young man is perfectly dressed and wears a tie. How many janitors show up to work looking like that?
“Million” comes to life the minute Jose meets Adela (Rose Salazar), a car salesperson who connects with the shy engineer. Their courtship is so old school it hurts, but Jose refuses to let anything get in the way of their romance.
Jose still has dreams of soaring above the earth, and it may take a miracle for that to happen.
Few films capture the sacrifice and wonder of marriage quite like “A Million Miles Away.” It’s not about infidelity or fights over too many late-night poker games. They’re a unit, a couple juggling parenting responsibilities and their dueling dreams.
The film treats Adela’s restaurant dreams as background fodder, which is a mistake. What’s far richer is how she isn’t treated like “The Wife” but an integral part of Jose’s story. We expect Pena to bring something special to a film like this.
Salazar is more than his match here.
The actors have a wonderful, lived-in chemistry that’s hard to reproduce. The screenplay takes their marriage, and the various challenges, seriously. That gives dramatic heft to Jose’s quest to reach the stars, knowing it won’t matter if he comes home to a broken marriage.
“A Million Miles Away” doesn’t shy away from film formulas, but in treating the elements beyond Jose’s space dreams with the gravity they deserve, the biopic rises above the competition.
HiT or Miss: “A Million Miles Away” takes time to warm up, but when it does it’s a poignant ode to the power of dreams and the institution of marriage.