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Image: "50/50"
Summit Entertainment
"50/50" combines both humor and poignant moments as a friend helps his pal deal with a cancer diagnosis.
TODAY contributor
updated 9/26/2011 4:52:48 PM ET 2011-09-26T20:52:48

Spoilers for various movies and TV shows follow.

"Laughter-through-tears is my favorite emotion," says Dolly Parton in "Steel Magnolias." and it's hard to disagree. Crying and laughing are both a release, and when they're mixed together, it's a double catharsis.

Video: Stars find humor in writer’s tragic diagnosis (on this page)

"50/50," opening Sept. 30, is a funny-sad movie about a young man (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) whose best friend (Seth Rogen) helps him stay hopeful in the face of cancer. With any luck, "50/50" will be like these movies and shows, which have gotten the rare laughter-through-tears balance just right.

Story: Cancer film '50/50' delivers laughs, life lessons

'Toy Story 3'
Near the end of this blockbuster animated film, there's a scene where the toys almost burn up in an incinerator. Instead of fighting it, the toys accept their fate. They reach out and hold hands in a line, deciding they'll leave the world together, united by love. It's devastating. But then, at the last possible moment, the toys get saved by their pals, the little alien dolls, as their fascination with the claw from the vending machine they once lived in finally pays off. The relief is enormous, and the action they take even makes complete sense in the universe of the story.

Story: 'Toy Story,' 'Nemo' feature some of scariest kid-movie scenes

'Modern Family'
Jokes fly everywhere in this ABC family sitcom, but the comedy is usually balanced with reminders that everyone loves each other. In the second-season episode "Mother's Day," there's a fantastic story about grouchy grandpa Jay trying to cook a mother's day meal with his dopey son-in-law Phil. While they're bickering, Jay finds a memento in his mom's old cookbook, and he suddenly gets emotional. It's touching, but when Phil tries to console Jay with a hug, things get awkward and funny again. The last-minute joke keeps the scene from getting syrupy.

Story: 'Modern Family' wins big at the Emmys

'The King's Speech'
This year's Oscar winner for Best Picture, "The King's Speech" has a perfectly balanced tone. For every charming scene of King George VI trying to overcome his stutter, there's a poignant moment where he can't communicate, literally or emotionally, with the people he loves. We can laugh while he spews curse words as part of his therapy, but eventually, we realize his therapy is more than just a lark. It's a lifeline between his inner and outer life. When he finally starts expressing himself, tears and laughter are equally appropriate.

Story: A royal night for 'The King's Speech'

This show about high school glee clubbers is the best kind of emotional roller coaster. Take the first-season episode "Theatricality." The cast performs Lady Gaga songs, airheaded cheerleader Brittany delivers brilliant lines about her sex life, and a baby almost gets named after a bottle of whiskey.  But along with the fun parts, there's a moving subplot about Kurt, a young, gay character, and Finn, a football star and Kurt's soon-to-be-stepbrother. The boys struggle to understand each other, and when Finn blows up and calls Kurt an offensive name, Kurt's dad jumps to his son's defense. He gives a tearjerking speech that's like a punch to the stomach, and gives real humanity to the episode.

Mark Blankenship is on Twitter as @CritCondition.

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Video: Watch the '50/50' trailer

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