Charity Hope Valentine works as a taxi dancer along with her friends, Nickie and Helene. She longs for love, but has bad luck with men, first seen when her married boyfriend, Charlie, pushes her off Gapstow Bridge in Central Park and steals her life savings of $427. The Fandango Ballroom and its sleazily erotic setting are introduced by the song “Hey, Big Spender”. Charity shares her disappointment and hopes with her co-workers Nickie and Helene in several scenes throughout the film.
Somewhat later, Charity meets famous movie star Vittorio Vitale, just as he breaks up with his girlfriend Ursula. Charity goes to a nightclub, where the guests perform the “Rich Man’s Frug,” and later has dinner with Vittorio at his apartment. When Vittorio leaves the room momentarily, Charity celebrates what seems to be her good fortune with the song “If They Could See Me Now”. Right after, however, Ursula comes back to Vittorio, and Charity is forced to spend a humiliating night in a closet while Vittorio and Ursula make love and sleep together. Charity again returns to the Fandango, where she, Nickie, and Helene commiserate on the building’s rooftop with “There’s Got to Be Something Better Than This”.
Looking for a more respectable and rewarding line of work, Charity goes to an employment agency, but she is forced to admit that she has no special skills and has to leave when she admits her status. In the building’s elevator, though, Charity meets shy and claustrophobic Oscar Lindquist, and the two are attracted to each other when the elevator halts, trapping them together for hours. The two go out together several times, including a visit to an alternative church presided over by a preacher named Big Daddy and “worshiping” with the song “The Rhythm of Life”.
Although Charity has not told her background to the reserved and respectable Oscar, he proposes marriage and professes to be broadminded when she does finally tell him. Charity’s hopes are once again lifted, celebrated in the huge production number “I’m a Brass Band”. When Oscar meets Charity’s friends at the marriage license bureau, however, he becomes jealous and tells her that he has tried but is unable to go through with the marriage.
Charity returns to the bridge in Central Park where she first appeared in the film and seems ready to throw herself off it, but a passing group of young hippies singing about love and peace hand her a flower, lifting her spirits.