Pat Solatano, the ex-high school history teacher and struggling protagonist in Silver Linings Playbook, has a temper. But it’s more than a temper. Pat goes off. Like a rocket.

For example, when Pat catches his wife in, shall we say, intimate company with a fellow history teacher, he goes off big time.

The consequences of Pat’s response to what he saw costs him a lot: his marriage, his home and his job.

“I lost all of that,” the institutionalized Pat obsesses at the beginning of Silver Linings Playbook. “I blew it.”

Yeah, but he’s building himself back. Going to group therapy. Working out. Reading books. And he’s telling himself that he’ll reclaim everything he has lost.

Never mind the restraining orders.

Things are looking up for Pat when his mother collects him from the Baltimore mental institution to which a judge, in accordance with Pat’s plea bargain, sentenced him to eight months prior.

Bradley Cooper plays the prickly, needy, fragile, emotional Pat like an egg that’s about to crack. Pat has a tough road ahead of him, especially when he doesn’t take his prescribed, mood-altering meds.

Living with his parents again, Pat is a handful. Cooper and, playing his parents, Robert De Niro and Jacki Weaver, share a multitude of wonderfully mad scenes.

“I’m not the explosive guy!” Pat explodes. “My father is the explosive guy!”

Based on the novel by Matthew Quick and directed by and adapted for the screen by David O. Russell (The Fighter, Flirting with Disaster), Silver Linings Playbook repeatedly scores thanks to its splendid cast and heady mix of comedy and drama.

De Niro, Weaver and Cooper are members of what must be the greatest ensemble cast of 2012. And De Niro surely deserves best supporting actor nominations for his performance. A bookie obsessed with the Philadelphia Eagles, Pat Sr. is another great character in De Niro’s vast collection of already classic characters.

Co-star Jennifer Lawrence runs into Cooper during one of their characters’ mutual daily jogs through the neighborhood. In her own twisted way, Lawrence’s character, Tiffany, is as off-the-hook as Pat.

“I just want us to be friends,” the husky-toned Tiffany insists.

Lawrence, after proving herself a formidable dramatic actress in The Hunger Games and Winter’s Bone, shows her comedic gifts as the troubled but unbowed Tiffany. Lawrence assumes the role of Tiffany, a character who’s nearly as brusque, tactless and on the edge as Pat, so completely as to be unrecognizable from her previous screen roles.

Tiffany plus madman Pat easily make one of the funniest, craziest screen pairs of the past 20 years. Both of the actors and their characters are so thoroughly, madly in tune.

Silver Linings Playbook, during its rocky road to becoming a fractured love story, runs a funny, conflict-mined, even suspenseful path. It’s a total winner.