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A Million Miles Away: Film Review

A Million Miles Away is a successfully inspiring tale of ambition and perseverance that delivers a hearty message: Never give up on your dreams, even when they seem unattainable.

As a child, I was always drawn to the stars and ogled at the beauty of space … its vastness full of unknown, infinite wonder. It’s no surprise, then, that as I grew older and became a total movie nerd, I found myself sucked into movies that had to do with astronauts and space. Naturally, when I saw the trailer for A Million Miles Away, I was ecstatic about seeing it for two reasons: the story, and Michael Peña (CHiPS), who brings such a bright sincerity and perfect comedic timing to every character he plays. In A Million Miles Away, Peña delivers a whole-package performance is this beautiful, heartfelt drama about one man’s effort to achieve a childhood dream fueled by a heart full of hope, ambition, and perseverance.

Written and directed by Alejandra Màrquez Abelia (Northern Skies Over Empty Space) and co-written by Gabriel Nuncio (Northern Skies Over Empty Space), A Million Miles Away tells the true story of José Hérnández, the first Mexican American to go to space. As a young migrant farmworker traveling with his family from Texas to California, he went to school when he could, where he discovered his dream of wanting to become an astronaut. Hérnández overcame enormous barriers for nearly two decades to become the first migrant farmworker and Mexican American to serve as an astronaut for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA).

Hérnández’s Space Program application was rejected a shocking 11 times before he amped up his game by getting in shape, learning Russian, pursuing a pilot’s license, obtaining a master’s degree in electrical engineering, and learning to scuba dive. The only thing he did not have that “most other applicants” did was white skin. While A Million Miles Away never comes right out and says it, it’s definitely implied that Hérnández’s race played some sort of role in delaying his acceptance into the program … until he hand-delivered his 12th attempt in person to NASA and presented his case.

“Over the course of the last 10 years, sir, every academic, professional, and personal decision I made [was made] with the Space Program in mind,” he says. “… I’ve applied 12 times and, yes sir, I’ve been on the verge of giving up after each and every rejection, but you know what, sir? Here I am. So, you can turn me down again, but rest assured I’ll be standing right here in a year.”

Michael Pena in the film A Million Miles Away
Michael Pena stars in A Million Miles Away (Prime Video)

Finally, in 2004, after 19 years of effort, José was selected as part of NASA’s 19th class of astronauts, where he trained and served as the flight engineer on the 2009 14-day STS-128 mission aboard the Space Shuttle Discovery. Hérnández became an unstoppable force of nature in achieving his goal while also serving as a source of inspiration and heroism to those around him.

A Million Miles Away is very well put together with a cohesive, intelligent, genuine narrative that will have you smiling with joy, shedding tears in happiness and over beauty, and feeling hopeful as you begin to explore (or even revisit) your own dreams and realize just how much they are within your grasp. Adding to the success of the film is the cast of characters, who feel like generations of a community coming together and reflecting just how much the love of family and friends carries us all and keeps us going along our path.

A Million Miles Away might appear to be about a young Latino achieving his dream of being an astronaut, but it’s more than that. It’s also a tale of strength and perspective, awareness and courage, love and family, dedication and tenacity. A Million Miles Away is yet another successful story of hope that strums our heart strings from beginning to end and leaves us beaming with pride at witnessing someone else’s success.

Something I really enjoyed about A Million Miles Away is its narrative structure around a certain recipe of advice that José’s father gave him about navigating life. While out working in the fields one day, José grew tired and wanted to quit. After his father stopped him, José asked him why he never gets tired. His father says it’s because he has a recipe he follows in life, and that requires specific ingredients.

Ingredient #1 is knowing what you want—know your goal. Hérnández’s goal was to become an astronaut and go to space. Ingredient #2 is noticing where you’re currently standing and knowing how far you need to go. Hérnández knew as a kid he had a long way to go, but he saw the path and kept his eyes focused on it. Ingredient #3 is thinking how you’ll get there—have a roadmap. Hérnández knew what academic steps he needed to take in order to get closer to his goal, and he took them—even improved upon them. Ingredient #4 is learning what you don’t know how to do. There was a lot Hérnández didn’t know how to do (i.e., fly a chopper, scuba dive, speak a foreign language, etc.), but he put those notches in his belt one by one like a pro.

And ingredient #5 is that when you think you’ve made it, you’ll probably have to try even harder. And Hérnández did. He was prepared.

Michael Peña displays such sincerity and sweetness wrapped in the purest of hearts fueled by an ambitious childhood dream he refused to ignore. The chemistry he shares on screen with co-star Rosa Salazar (Alita: Battle Angel) is electric; they’re a perfect fit. The two starred together in the hit 2017 action-comedy CHiPS and both were excellent … and quite funny. If you haven’t seen it, you should!

Overall, A Million Miles Away is an excellent film showcasing the inspiring story of a migrant kid-turned-hero who not only changed his life but also the lives of those around him. He also paved the way for future Mexican American astronauts. In addition to a good soundtrack, great cinematography, and fantastic storytelling, A Million Miles Away boasts a hearty message: Never give up on your dreams—even in those moments where they seem unattainable; that’s usually when they’re right within your grasp. Following our dreams holds the key to who we are as individuals, and the beauty of it all lies in the discovery of your own path.

A Million Miles Away will be released globally on Prime Video on September 15, 2023.

A Million Miles Away: Trailer (Prime Video)
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