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.
Jose Hernandez’s story is certainly one made for the movies. The son of a migrant worker, he became one of the chosen few allowed to enter NASA’s astronaut program. Ultimately assigned to the STS-128 mission, he spent nearly two weeks in space on the International Space Station. (To put this into perspective, only 372 Americans have been in space.) To be selected as an astronaut is an exceptional event for anyone but Hernandez’s story is distinctive in terms of the many financial and social hurdles he had to overcome.
Based on Hernandez’s memoir, Alejandro Marquez Abella’s “A Million Miles Away,” recounts the engineer’s story in an inspiring if pedestrian way, a film that hits all the expected biopic beats in the safest way possible. Though not as calculated and sanitized as other genre entries from 50 – 60 years ago, this is a movie that takes very few chances, leaving us to wonder if Hernandez is, in fact, as saintly as portrayed. Still, there’s no denying the power of its theme of tenacity and perseverance.
Beginning in 1969, we see the Hernandezs traveling up and down the California coast during harvest season, going from one farm to the next to help bring in crops. Jose understands his parents’ struggle, recognizes they will not get ahead and determines he wants more in life.
Naturally curious and tenacious, Hernandez (Michael Pena) crosses paths with a teacher who encourages him to follow his dream of being an astronaut. He does so but, of course, this does not happen overnight. Getting a degree as an engineer, he lands a job at a private firm and then meets the love of his life, Adela (Rosa Salazar), who he marries after a long courtship. Raising a large family slows things down, but Hernandez keeps his eyes on his prize.
Inspirational films have their purpose as it’s good to be reminded that hard work and a sense of determination does pay off. To its credit, “Miles” is not as heavy-handed as the recent “The Hill” and other faith-based dramas and there’s no question that Pena’s presence – one of our most likable actors – helps keeps us involved. Still, as bland as it is, Hernandez’s story is inspirational and as rendered here, could provide the proper impetus for future star rangers to follow their own dreams.