A Million Miles Away
PG, 121 minutes, Prime Video
There are few things more inspirational than going to space.
The extensive number of films about the attempt to reach space and dominate the industry is evidence of that.
The latest entry in that genre is A Million Miles Away, a moving, family-friendly biopic about NASA engineer Jose Hernandez.
The film, from Mexican filmmaker Alejandra Marquez Abella (Narcos: Mexico), compares Hernandez's journey from migrant farm worker to literal rocket scientist to that of the monarch butterfly - travelling many miles over many years to eventually reach its goal.
And it is quite the journey of unrelenting determination for the eventual astronaut.
We first pick up with a primary-school-aged Jose and his family as they wave goodbye to their tight-knit community in Michoacan, Mexico, in search of greater opportunity and pay in California.
They visit cities up and down the coastal state, largely in the San Joaquin Valley, staying for a period of time before moving on to the next site as the work demands. It's a cycle they've become used to, but it is nonetheless exhausting.
Jose and his siblings work with their parents in the fields, mostly picking fruit, early in the morning before heading into school - a different school for every different city.
It is at his school in Stockton, California, that his teacher Miss Young (a delightful Michelle Krusiec) helps him figure out that he has a gifted mind and a way with numbers.
One day he asks her what the stars are for. She says, "I think you're going to be one of those people who can actually come up with an answer for that type of question." It's a simple exchange, but it unlocks within Jose a goal to strive for his whole life.
Miss Young is that kind of fairytale teacher whose impact on her students is immeasurable. She's like Laura Dern's character in the similarly space-themed drama October Sky, or, to a lesser extent, Robin Williams in Dead Poets Society - an adult who has faith that one child can make their lofty dreams a reality.
In a movie filled with feeling, her scenes are particularly memorable.
Eventually the Hernandez family, with a little urging, settles down in Stockton, and with an uninterrupted education, Jose is able to thrive. As an adult Jose is played by Michael Pena (End of Watch), who is a constant delight. He tries again and again to be accepted into the NASA space program after becoming an engineer.
It's not until he meets his wife Adela (Rosa Salazar, Bird Box) and includes her in the plans to become an astronaut that things really get into motion. Adela is a force to be reckoned with - she is immensely loving and generous, but refuses to be parked on the sidelines. Salazar does a great job with her, and props to the writers (Abella, Bettina Gilois and Hernan Jiménez) for elevating her beyond "the wife". Adela's role is arguably the heart and soul of A Million Miles Away.
Along his journey Jose is underestimated and overlooked, but he refuses to give up - even when he's mistaken for the janitor instead of an engineer just because he is Latino - and when the big moment comes it's impossible not to be swept away by the occasion.
Fans of Hidden Figures will love A Million Miles Away.