IN THE HEIGHTS*CUT TO THE CHASE*
NOTE: This spoiler was submitted by Jeremy
The film starts on a beach in the Dominican Republic. Usnavi de la Vega (Anthony Ramos) is working his piragua stand when his daughter Iris (Olivia Perez) and her friends approach him, asking him about the name of his stand, “El Sueñito”, which means “little dream.” Usnavi then goes on to explain that he, like everyone he knew growing up, had their own dream, and it started in Washington Heights.
Usnavi works at a bodega with his cousin Sonny (Gregory Diaz IV), and they are in the middle of a scorching summer. They interact with all the other people they know from their neighborhood (“In The Heights”) – there’s the salon ladies, Daniela (Daphne Rubin-Vega), Carla (Stephanie Beatriz), and Cuca (Dascha Polanco), who always have some gossip going on. Usnavi’s friend Benny (Corey Hawkins) comes in for his coffee before heading to his job. Then there is Vanessa Morales (Melissa Barrera), the object of Usnavi’s affections who also works at the salon but dreams of being a fashion designer. There is also Abuelita Claudia (Olga Merediz), who never had kids of her own but treats everyone in the block like they were her own, hence them calling her “abuelita”. Benny’s boss Kevin Rosario (Jimmy Smits) also comes in for his coffee before getting a lottery ticket.
Usnavi is visited by a man named Alejandro (Mateo Gomez), who works at the local law firm. He tells Usnavi that his late father’s piragua stand in DR is up for sale, which Usnavi has dreamed of purchasing and retiring to.
Returning to the neighborhood is Kevin’s daughter Nina (Leslie Grace), who was always seen as something of a genius due to her dedication to hitting the books. She visits her father’s taxi company where Benny is working on dispatch (“Benny’s Dispatch”), and it is clear that Benny still has feelings for Nina after a previous failed romance. Unbeknownst to her friends, she has dropped out of Stanford University and feels a bit ashamed to be back (“Breathe”). Nina later goes to have dinner with Kevin, where she mentions not being able to pay her tuition on time, and when she tries to explain things to Kevin, he harshly brushes her off.
After Nina reunites with Usnavi and Sonny, she sits with Claudia for a bit, who offers her words of encouragement. She then heads over to the salon to meet Vanessa and the other ladies, who begin to engage in some gossip (“No Me Diga”) regarding Vanessa’s love life before Nina comes out to reveal that she dropped out of school, to everyone’s surprise.
Vanessa later goes out to focus on her sueñito (“It Won’t Be Long Now”). She has a number of designs made up and is looking for a place of her own, but due to having no credit check, she cannot secure the place she is looking for. She goes to the bodega where Usnavi tries to muster up the nerve to ask Vanessa out, only to freeze up. Sonny steps in for him and gets Vanessa to invite Usnavi to go dancing with her.
In the middle of the intense heat, the shops close up early. Sonny then overhears the shop sold a winning lottery ticket worth $96,000, which everyone soon finds out about. The people all head to the crowded local pool, where they all ponder what they would do if they found out they have the winning ticket (“96,000”). When the numbers are revealed, it turns out nobody has the winning ticket, and Usnavi tells the kids that nobody ever turned it in.
Elsewhere in the barrio is the Piraguero (Lin-Manuel Miranda). He sells piragua but finds his business going down thanks to Mister Softee (Christopher Jackson), but the Piraguero is not letting this get him down (“Piragua”).
Usnavi goes to see Sonny’s father Gapo (Marc Anthony) over him allowing Sonny to join him in DR since Usnavi is set to sell the space for the bodega and head over there. Gapo explains the complications due to both him and Sonny being undocumented.
Benny and Nina hang out at the park together, where she stops to take in the noise from her block. They reminisce about their childhood and past romance, and while Nina expresses doubts about the future, Benny shows his faith in her (“When You’re Home”). Benny then goes and gets coffee for himself and Kevin, who is in a meeting with the dry cleaner.
Later that night, Usnavi joins Sonny, Claudia, Benny, and the salon ladies at the Rosario home for a dinner party with Nina and Kevin. When Benny brings up Kevin meeting with the dry cleaner, he is forced to admit that he sold his business to help pay for Nina’s tuition. This then forces her to come clean and reveal to Kevin that she dropped out of Stanford after a racist incident where her roommate accused her of stealing her pearl necklace, which was then found in the girl’s bag all along. Nina defies Kevin and refuses his money before storming out. Benny follows her, and Kevin kicks everyone out of his house.
Usnavi and Vanessa join Benny and Nina for a date at the club (“The Club”). A man approaches Vanessa for a dance, but even though she declines, Usnavi acts like it’s no big deal and lets her go. When she starts dancing with other men to make Usnavi jealous, he then finds another woman to dance with to do the same. Suddenly, the power goes out from all over the city, forcing everyone out of the club and separates Usnavi from Vanessa. Sonny meets with the local street artist, Graffiti Pete (Noah Catala), and they set off fireworks to keep the residents peaceful (“Blackout”). When Usnavi and Vanessa find each other again, they argue about each other’s behavior at the club and they split up for the night.
Usnavi returns home with the other salon ladies as they play a game to entertain themselves. Claudia lights candles and goes to lay down, as the heat is getting to be too much for her. She reminisces about her life in Cuba before coming to America (“Paciencia Y Fe”) until she comes to a point where she wonders if she should stay or if it is time for her to go, represented by her walking through a tunnel. She chooses to go, and she passes away peacefully. Usnavi finds Claudia and tells Daniela to call 911, but Claudia is pronounced dead at the scene, her heart having given out from the heat and stress. Usnavi and Nina break down together before the other neighborhood residents hear the news and go by Claudia’s home to pay tribute to their Abuelita (“Alabanza”).
Three days after blackout, the residents gather for a DACA protest due to the threat of dreamers potentially being kicked out of the country. When the speaking councilwoman mentions that her daughter cannot go to college because she is undocumented, Sonny confides to Nina that he is facing the same situation. Nina then goes to Kevin and says she wants to do what she can to help undocumented children receive an education and other benefits. Although she expects Kevin to fight her, he instead offers encouragement, saying that she sees a future that he cannot and that she must follow this goal to the end.
Usnavi starts clearing out the bodega and finds Vanessa’s rental application in the garbage. He goes to see Daniela, who is packing up as well since she, Carla, and Cuca are moving their salon business to the Bronx due to increasing rent. Usnavi asks Daniela to co-sign for Vanessa as a favor.
Daniela then finds the barrio residents gathered in despair over the ongoing blackout and Claudia’s passing. She and the other salon ladies then gather to lift everyone’s spirits by celebrating their culture, declaring that they are “not powerLESS but powerFUL” (“Carnaval Del Barrio”). In the middle of this, the salon ladies help Vanessa realize that not only does she feel something for Usnavi, but that she was oblivious to his own love for her. After Usnavi joins in the celebration, the power returns to the barrio.
One month later, Nina is getting ready to go back to Stanford, and she agrees to have a long distance relationship with Benny, but they agree to spend as much time as they have left together (“When The Sun Goes Down”). They dance together, appearing as though they are walking on the walls before they kiss.
Usnavi is nearly done packing when he finds that Claudia had the winning lottery ticket and left it for him. As he revels in excitement and emotions, Vanessa comes by to thank him for telling Daniela to help her. She brought some champagne as a thank-you (“Champagne”), but the mood turns sour as they acknowledge their feelings for one another with a kiss, but Usnavi feels it won’t work since they may never see each other again after he leaves. As Vanessa leaves, she runs into Pete and sees some of his multi-colored rags, which gives her an idea.
Usnavi goes with Sonny to see Alejandro to give him the lottery ticket to cash in so that he can help Sonny get a green card and for legal fees. Although Alejandro lets them know that there’s no guarantee that it will happen and that they may be waiting a very long time for disappointment, Usnavi is confident in Sonny’s chances.
The next day, as Usnavi is preparing to leave, he is brought to the bodega to find Sonny and Pete with Vanessa and some designs she came up with. They spent the whole night in there working on a new setup for the place, which includes a painted mural on the wall of the beach where the piragua stand is. There is also a tribute to Claudia with her motto, “paciencia y fe” (patience and faith). Usnavi is touched by the gesture, which encourages him to change his mind and stay in Washington Heights.
It is then shown that Usnavi has been telling the story to Iris and her friends inside the bodega next to the beach mural. It is also revealed that Vanessa is Iris’s mother. As Iris runs out with her friends to play by the hydrants, Usnavi joins Vanessa and the rest of the barrio (“Finale”) as he looks forward to the future in the place that he calls home.
After the credits, the Piraguero sees that Mr. Softee’s truck has broken down, which sends everyone back to the piragua cart (“Piragua Reprise”). The Piraguero then brings some piragua over to the driver as a nice gesture.
During a fateful summer in Washington Heights, Usnavi de la Vega and his friends chase their “sueñitos” (little dreams). He wants to retire to the Dominican Republic and run his father’s piragua stand by the beach. His friend Benny wants to win back the heart of his boss’s daughter, Nina Rosario, their studious childhood friend who dropped out of Stanford after a racist incident. Usnavi’s love interest, Vanessa Morales, wants to leave Washington Heights and make fashion designs.
The neighborhood faces other issues such as gentrification, increasing rent, threats of deportation, and a blackout that lasts three days. After the power goes out, Abuelita Claudia, who has looked after nearly everyone in the neighborhood, passes away from the heat, and the whole neighborhood mourns and pays tribute to her.
Just as Usnavi is preparing to leave to DR after learning the piragua stand is available for purchase, he and Vanessa acknowledge their feelings for one another, as do Benny and Nina, who plan to continue a long-distance relationship since she is going back to school. After Vanessa teams up with Usnavi’s cousin Sonny, they convince him to stay home and continue running the bodega by also selling Vanessa’s designs.
Usnavi and Vanessa later become an official couple who have a daughter, Iris, and Usnavi and his friends continue to pursue their sueñitos.