Love's Labors Won


By Anne Burke

Published Jul 21, 2006 5:37 PM

Valerie Faris and Jonathan Dayton


Watch the Trailers (Quicktime, Apple.com)

Visit the Official Site (Fox Searchlight)

Local (Westwood) Showtimes (Google)

Little Miss Sunshine, the first film from Bruin husband-and-wife team Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris (both '80), is still shining at the box office, garnering a total take of $50 million-plus to date.

Little Miss Sunshine, which hit theaters July 26, is a testament to the power of love. Not between co-directors Dayton and Faris, though there is that. Dayton and Faris, who met as undergraduates at UCLA, have been married for 18 years. But love for a script that they read and refused to abandon, even as it took them on a harrowing trip through the Hollywood meat grinder.

"We were very stubborn and it was very frustrating and many times, we just figured we would never make the film," said Faris. "But we loved it so much, we really never gave up."

Written by Michael Arndt, Little Miss Sunshine is a dark comedy about a family of quarrelsome misfits who set out in a falling-apart VW bus from Albuquerque to California so that 7-year-old Olive can compete in a preteen beauty pageant.

"I just loved that this was a family that was as different from each other as you could imagine and they didn't like each other, but there was love," said Faris, 48.

At 49, Dayton is boyishly handsome and fond of wearing urban-hipster hats that make him look like he doesn't take himself too seriously. Faris has curly, auburn hair and translucent skin. She comes from Hollywood stock — her father edited cartoons at MGM and her grandfather was an electrician on Chaplin and Hitchcock films.

Faris didn't set out to pursue the family business. At UCLA, she studied dance and choreography; Dayton studied film. The two were both involved in a student arts committee, and a mutual admiration society quickly ensued. "I really loved Val's dance work," Dayton recalled. Faris saw Dayton's senior project, a documentary called Make Me a Movie. "I just thought it was so great and interesting." Their first collaboration came when Pebbles Wadsworth, who then ran the UCLA Center for the Performing Arts, commissioned the pair to make a film about performing arts on campus. After several years, the professional partnership blossomed into love.