Layer-by-layer assembly of polyelectrolyte multilayer (PEM) films represents a bottom-up approach for re-engineering the molecular landscape of cell surfaces with spatially continuous and molecularly uniform ultrathin films. However, fabricating PEMs on viable cells has proven challenging owing to the high cytotoxicity of polycations. Here, we report the rational engineering of a new class of PEMs with modular biological functionality and tunable physicochemical properties which have been engineered to abrogate cytotoxicity. Specifically, we have discovered a subset of cationic copolymers that undergoes a conformational change, which mitigates membrane disruption and facilitates the deposition of PEMs on cell surfaces that are tailorable in composition, reactivity, thickness, and mechanical properties. Furthermore, we demonstrate the first successful in vivo application of PEM-engineered cells, which maintained viability and function upon transplantation and were used as carriers for in vivo delivery of PEMs containing biomolecular payloads. This new class of polymeric film and the design strategies developed herein establish an enabling technology for cell transplantation and other therapies based on engineered cells.