Tuesday, June 18, 2024

Movie Review: ‘A Million Miles Away’ is a Wonder Only the Movies Can Bring

Director: Alejandra Márquez Abella
Writers: Alejandra Márquez Abella, Bettina Gilois, and Hernán Jiménez
Stars: Michael Peña, Rosa Salazar, Julio Cesar Cedillo

Synopsis: A biopic about Jose Hernandez and his path from a farm worker to becoming an engineer and an astronaut. A tale of perseverance, community and sacrifice to accomplish a seemingly impossible dream.

The Prime Video film, A Million Miles Away, is akin to those beloved Disney live-action sports films based on true stories like The Rookie, Miracle, and Remember the Titans. The Michael Peña vehicle is a pure crowd-pleaser designed to have you stand up and cheer. For the most part, it does so because the film fully showcases the American dream and is there for the taking. You must have the will and determination to grab it but never let your dreams fall by the wayside. If you don’t stand up and cheer or at least give Jose M. Hernandez a Judd Nelson fist pump in the air, you may be dead inside.

Peña plays Mr. Hernandez, the son of Mexican immigrant parents who helped them pick the fields of American food every morning at four before he had to go to school. His parents, Salvador (Julio Cesar Cedillo) and Julia (Veronica Falcón), keep pulling their children out of school to migrate with the seasons to pick up work, despite the pleas of Jose’s teacher, Miss Young (Michelle Krusiec), who sees the immense potential in young Jose.

However, Salvador and Julia sacrificed their plans, even selling their home, to support Jose’s dream of an excellent education and achieving what they could not. After graduation, Jose lands a job at NASA, becoming an engineer, even though the receptionist hands over a large set of keys, thinking he must be the janitor who cleans their floors. At first, he is given menial tasks like making copies and forcing their hands to respect him by pointing out a flaw in their algorithms. His persistence pays off in many ways, as he meets a beautiful car saleswoman, Adela (Rosa Salazar), who is the opposite of the usual men she dates—a nerdy Chicano who aspires outside the bubble society has planned for them in those buzzing central California farmlands.

Director Alejandra Márquez Abella wrote the script along with Bettina Gilois and Hernán Jiménez, based on the biography written by Hernández. While the movie has your usual genre tropes and clichés, especially regarding Salazar’s Adela supporting her husband practically unconditionally, the film is exceptionally well-made and executed for family viewing. The first act is set up beautifully, with one of my favorite character actors (I know I’m using that term liberally), Cedillo’s Salvador, having a heart-wrenching revelation in the car with his family about the opportunity he has for his family.

The second act of A Million Miles Away is held up by Peña’s charming performance, showcasing his knack for disarming humor and folding in an endearing stoic poignancy. The actor also has exceptional chemistry with Salazar, with a romance that does not necessarily feel swooning but infectious. The writers also do an outstanding job showing the struggle of not only Hernandez achieving his dream but also the struggle it puts on the film’s subject and the family as a whole.

A Million Miles Away boasts a great cast that reflects an accurate cultural representation of the people and setting. This contributes to the beautiful sense of community that has their hopes pinned on Jose, who not only represents himself or his family but an entire community of people. I have been a massive fan of Salazar since her remarkable turn in the rotoscope animated series Undone and a devoted supporter of Cedillo since being Tommy Lee Jones’ travel companion in The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada. You also have Ozark’s Veronica Falcón bringing authentic mothering to the role, and even Bobby Soto does good work here, trying to shrug off the infamous film The Tax Collector, playing Jose’s younger brother.

Frankly, this film feels like one of those stories that live up to that “incredible true story” tagline, while at the same time, showing us that anyone can achieve anything they put their minds to. However, Abella’s movie hits differently. The sense of wonderment and achievement of living the dream through someone else’s eyes through a cinematic experience that only the movies can bring. 

A Million Miles Away is the year’s best family film. The kind of film that inspires you to reach for the stars and park there, if not just for a short while

Grade: B+

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