When I saw the poster for this film, I knew immediately that I wanted to watch it. It stars Michael Peña who is immensely talented but is known more for his comedic roles. I knew he had the talent to hold the spotlight, though. I was excited to see him in the starring role for a change. Along with the story which sounded incredible, I hoped the film would be good. I found the film profoundly empowering, emotional, with powerful performances and an authentic narrative.
In “A Million Miles Away” a biopic, directed by Alejandra Marquez Abella, and based on the novel by Jose Hernandez, Michael Peña stars as Hernandez, as he follows his dream from migrant farm worker with his family to become an engineer and astronaut. With the support and sacrifices of his parents Salvador (Julio Cesar Cedillo) and Julia(Veronica Falcón), his cousin Beto (Bobby Soto) and his loving wife Adela (Rosa Salazar), he perseveres against the odds to achieve a seemingly impossible dream. The film also stars Garret Dillahunt as Commander Sturckow, Saraya Blue as Kalpana Chawla, and Michelle Krusiec as Miss Young.
One of the reasons that this film is so profoundly powerful is that the story is told authentically. The writing develops Jose Hernandez’ background, starting when he’s a child and how his family worked as migrant farm workers to try to raise money for their own home. The film demonstrates how difficult it is to learn when moving all the time but how Jose still succeeds due to hard work. It also shows clearly the sacrifices that his parents make to help him achieve a good education and become something beyond a farmer. What I do love is that jobs like farming or maintenance are never looked down on. Despite Juan’s success, the film shows that he never forgets his origins and how grounded that makes him in his achievements.
The film carefully balances the real history with keeping the film entertaining. While it does not stint in sharing details, the film does speed through certain moments like weddings and the births of Juan’s children with wife Adela to help the pace of the film but also maintain the dramatic moments, such as when Adela realizes just how important his dream is to him. She helps him realize what steps he needs to take in order to achieve his goals. The movie also shares humorous moments, like Juan helping Adela in her restaurant or when he awkwardly meets her family. All of those little moments of genuine emotion and humor make the film so heartwarming and a joy to watch. Bobby Soto as his cousin Beto also adds a lot of humor but also emotion to the film.
If there is one element that absolutely causes the film to shine, it is the performances. Michael Peña is emotional and powerful as Juan Hernandez, driven and smart as he works towards his dream. His chemistry with Rosa Salazar is warm and loving, with a passion that makes the romance and marriage believable and authentic. Rosa Salazar is warm, loving, and funny as Adela, the film presenting her clearly as a support for Juan and the backbone of her family. Bobby Soto is funny and emotional as Beto. As his parents, Julio Cesar Cedillo and Veronica Falcón are phenomenal, both loving and supportive parents, adding small touches of humor to the movie, like his father’s passion for butterflies and his mother wanting to pack Juan food. Garret Dillahunt as Commander Sturckow, Saraya Blue as Kalpana Chawla, and Michelle Krusiec as Miss Young are all excellent. And while I cannot name them all, the entire cast that plays Juan Hernandez’ family are wonderful in this movie.
The only tiny element that occasionally threw me out of the film was mostly in the beginning. The film does take a slower pace as it sets up Juan’s background and as it shows his various attempts to join NASA. While that does slow things down, it is absolutely crucial because it adds details that add to the emotional moments and the powerful punch of emotion the audience gets when Juan achieves his dream at last. And despite being told from the beginning that Juan Hernandez did become an astronaut, the entire audience claps when he realizes that dream which speaks to the power and pacing of the story.
If you like biopics, this is one of the best I’ve seen. I love that we get another point of view of NASA, another film about people of color who have achieved great dreams such as Hidden Figures. I like that we see more possibilities than just one path. Because of this, the film is empowering and emotional. The performance is one of Michael Peña’s best roles. I love that we get to see him in the starring role. I also love the powerful performances by the rest of the cast, especially Rosa Salazar and Bobby Soto. This is a stellar cast and an incredible story, one that more people should see. Families will love it and I think if you love it like me, you’ll be cheering for Juan Hernandez’ journey.
Rating: 4.5 ears of corn out of 5.